Judge compels witness list disclosure in rare murder case

Cristian Jimenez, 21

After months of struggling with the District Attorney’s Office
to gain access to witness information, lawyers defending four young
adults who face conspiracy and murder charges received good
news.
After months of struggling with the District Attorney’s Office to gain access to witness information, lawyers defending four young adults who face conspiracy and murder charges received good news.

At Friday morning’s hearing, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Arroyo granted the defense’s motion to compel prosecutors to hand over critical witness contact information surrounding the death of Larry Martinez Jr., 18, who was gunned down by a rival gang Nov. 2008 within blocks of the Gilroy Police Department.

“It’s a win for justice,” said Edward Sousa, one of the defense attorneys. “This will allow us to properly and comprehensively investigate the case prior to the preliminary hearing.”

Defense attorneys are prohibited from releasing witness contact information to anyone other than their investigators.

Without conducting their own investigations, defense attorneys had only police reports to rely on, which “leave a lot of unanswered questions,” Sousa said.

Deputy District Attorney Troy Benson will have to hand over the contact information for about 50 witnesses at a 9 a.m. hearing on April 2 in Department 110 of the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill. And because Deputy Alternate Defender Jessica Delgado withdrew her client’s time waiver – which suspended his right to a speedy preliminary examination – the defendants’ preliminary hearing could begin as early as April 5.

Delgado did not return phone calls. It is unclear why her client withdrew his time wavier.

Interviewing 50 witnesses between April 2 and 5 is “impossible,” however, Sousa said.

Robert Barrios, 21; Heather Ashford, 19; and Angel Solorzano, 20, did not intend to kill Martinez, their attorneys said. But even though they didn’t fire the gun that killed their friend and cousin, the three face conspiracy and murder charges for allegedly contributing to Martinez’s death during a clash with a rival gang. Martinez, Solorzano and Barrios were Norteño gang members, police said.

The fourth defendant, alleged Sureño gang member Cristian Jimenez, 21, also faces a murder charge and a felony gun possession charge for pulling the trigger of the gun that killed Martinez, according to court documents.

About half an hour before the shooting, Jimenez and two other Sureños who are still at large – Edgardo Centeno, 19, and an unnamed juvenile – threw a rock at the car Martinez and Solorzano rode in while Ashford drove, according to police. After a brief discussion, Ashford, Martinez and Solorzano picked up Barrios and returned to confront the Sureños, police said. Armed with a small bat, Martinez and his friends snuck up on the Sureños from behind, provoking the rival gang members to turn and shoot, prosecutors said.

The specific details leading up to the shooting are unclear as the police reports and court file have not been made public. Police only released a three-page “statement of facts” after the incident because of the violent nature of the shooting and the gang affiliations of those involved.

According to Sousa, Ashford never got out of the car and Barrios and Solorzano were unarmed and trailed several yards behind Martinez as he snuck up behind Jimenez and his accomplices.

Instead of charging only those Sureños suspected of killing Martinez, District Attorney Dolores Carr used a rarely-invoked rule – the provocative act murder theory – to charge all three of Martinez’s associates for contributing to his death for the benefit of a criminal street gang.

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