Results tagged “Anthony Sabo” from The Court Reporter

Alleged Gang Member with Loaded Gun Held to Answer for Trial

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Dillon Lee Mansell who is on parole and was allegedly caught by police walking down the street with a loaded gun denied that he was a Ventura Avenue gang member.

But shortly into his preliminary hearing, Mansell became exhibit A, so to speak.

The 20-year-old who was recently released from prison has a tattoo that is about an inch high across his left cheek --  "Avenue," it states.

Detective Todd Hourigan testified at today's preliminary hearing that Mansell also has a gang tattoo on the right side of his neck and on both the left and right forearms.

"He also has 'Ventura' across his chest," Hourigan told the court.

Mansell was spotted by a police officer on patrol walking eastbound in the 300 block of West Ramona and "was kind of hiding" behind a tree. The officer turned his vehicle around and eventually found Mansell hiding behind a red pickup, according to Hourigan.

The officer found a gun nearby that was wrapped in a blue bandana, said Hourigan. The weapon had a round in the chamber and there were nine rounds inside a magazine, Hourigan said.

During the preliminary hearing, prosecutor Anthony Sabo pointed out to the judge that Mansell who is out of custody brought an L.A. Dodgers baseball cap to court.

Hourigan said the Ventura Avenue gang uses the sports attire of the Los Angeles Dodgers to identify themselves as gang members because the blue baseball cap has the letters LA on the top of the cap. Avenue Gang members claim that the letters stand for "La Avenue," according to Hourigan.

Hourigan testified that he has had as many as 25 contacts on the street with Mansell  and  named several Ventura Avenue gang members who were seen with Mansell.

Mansell had agreed as part of his probation terms before being sent to prison for assault with a deadly weapon that he wouldn't associate with gang members.

Mansell's attorney Rebekah Mathis, who works with the Public Defender's Office, said Mansell could, indeed, be a gang member. But she said to prove that her client was an active gang member, prosecutors would have to provide more evidence than what was presented in court today.

She noted that Mansell's cousin is a gang member, that he grew up in that neighborhood, went to school, hung out and lived among many gangsters.

"He may be a gang member but that doesn't mean he is an active gang member," Mathis argued in court.

"Nothing shows that he is active," said Mathis.

Sabo disagreed, pointing to the tattoos, the LA Dodger baseball came he brought to court, having multiple contacts with police and he is just out of prison.

 "He's active," said Sabo.

In this country, however, people can be Nazis, criminal street gang members, motorcycle club members, the Mexican Mafia or Aryan Brotherhood members etc. because it isn't a crime to belong or associate with gangs.

Still, some defense attorneys argue  that police simply accuse many Hispanic youngsters as being gang members because they have shaved heads or tattoos or both.

So what constitutes an active membership? I ask Sabo.

(Right  then, I am thinking that it's like a credit card. You call an 800-number, listened to the recorded instructions and punch in some personal information to activate your VISA card membership. :) )

Seriously though, Sabo explained how it works.

In an interview, Sabo said authorities consider several things including how long was a person's last contact with police and crimes committed.

"You can be an active gang member on one incident," said Sabo.

Adding that in this case, the gun incident makes it a gang incident, according to Sabo.

But an active gang member might not have any arrest or incidents because he has managed to "stay under the radar" because he gets other people do his bidding, Sabo explained.

During the preliminary hearing, Judge Matthew Guasco ruled that there was a "strong suspicion" that the crimes were committed and held Mansell for trial.

Chop Shop Prelim and the Mexican Mafia Case

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There were more defendants and defense lawyers in court than there were people in the audience this afternoon.

The six defendants involved in a chop shop operation being run at a residence in Santa Paula and their six lawyers were so packed near the defense table that two defendants and a defense attorney had to sit inside the jury box.

The six defendants are Joseph Banuelo Bracamontes, 41;Justin Tyler Steele, 25; David Martinez Jr., 25; Aaron Alexander Morua, 26; Ryan Anthony Ramos, 23; David Jesus Velazquez, 25, are accused of being involved in a chop shop located at the 400 block of Grant Line Street in an unicorporated area of Santa Paula.

Initially, some of the defense lawyers complained that they didn't have all the discovery from the District Attorney's Office, and prosecutor Anthony Sabo said he gave everybody what he had from the investigation.

Defense Attorney Bill Haney who is representing Morua, said the DA must give lawyers exculpatory evidence if they have it.

More bickering.

Attorney Donna Forry who is representing Bracamontes, said she was ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing.

Judge David Hirsch said he would allow defense lawyers to discuss among themselves whether they want to continue the preliminary hearing.

"The preliminary doesn't look like its ready to be held," said Hirsch.

The judge, who has the patience of Job, left the courtroom.

More discussions in court by the defense lawyers for about 10 minutes before they decided to go outside the courtroom for more talks.

Courtroom observer Mickey Schlein, who has been sitting in Ventura County's courtrooms for nearly 13 years, said this is a waste of the court's resources and time.

 "All of this should be resolved before they hold a preliminary hearing," the 85-year-old Schlein complains.

Ten minutes later, all the defense lawyers agree that the preliminary hearing can proceed.

The judge comes back on the bench and the preliminary hearing starts..

The first prosecution witness, Detective Christopher Martin, who is with the California Highway Patrol and was assigned to the Ventura County Auto Theft Task Force, was hammered by defense attorneys with objections.

Some of the objections come in two and threes and others in unison: hearsay, lack of foundation, lack of personal knowledge so on and so forth.

Martin, who has a shaved head, beard and an earring, isn't rattled.

Soon it was raining objections with the judge swatting down some, sustaining others or telling prosecutor Anthony Sabo to fine tune his questions.

Then, it got slow.

After 15 minutes of Martin testifying about the make and model of each car that was brought into the chop shop along with giving precise details on how he found out the vehicle had been stolen, the court proceeding got very slow.

A well-behaved little girl about eight years old who is the daughter of one of the defendants curled up on a second-row seat and fell asleep next to her mother.

Across the aisle and about 10 minutes into Martin's testimony, Mr. Schlein, whose quick mind and memory are incredible and who sometimes drives like a bat out of hell, is also asleep.  

Twenty minutes later, both the girl and Mr. Schlein are awake.

The judge has the defense objections down to a drizzle when Martin shifts into his testimony on the fifth or sixth car.

It is late in the afternoon, Mr. Schlein calls it a day and leaves.

A few minutes later, the judge, who goes on vacation on Friday, mercifully announces a short court break.

I head down to Courtroom 12 where all the lawyers of the 16 defendants named in the Mexican Mafia conspiracy indictment handed down in November converge along with prosecutor Joann Roth.

More legal housekeeping and more discovery is handed over.

One by one, the defense lawyers and their clients take turns going going before Judge Kevin McGee.

Defense lawyer Jay Leiderman, who is representing Edwin Mora who has been described as the shot caller in Ventura County, stated attorneys have received 8,000 pages of discovery along with 20 to 25 CDs and DVDs so far.

"You know they aren't paying us? Apparently the county was not told to budget for a big case," he texted. "I've been paid $874 since November. And that was just a few weeks ago that I finally got the check."

"Have you cashed the check? :)" I texted back.

"Yes."

Stay tuned.

 

Ventura Gang Member Convicted of Robbery/Assault at Grant Park

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UPDATE:  A jury on Tuesday found Maximiliano "Max" Ledezma  guilty of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the 2011 robbery and assault during an incident near the Cross at Grant Park.

Jurors also found that Ledezma that used a weapon while committing the gang-related crime.

Prosecutor Anthony Sabo said in an interview today that Ledezma is facing 33 years in prison when he is sentenced next month.

The incident took place on May 27,2011 at about 6:45 p.m., and Ledezma, 23, was arrested on June 23, 2011.

Ledezma approached Ricky Garcia and demanded his backpack but was told that he couldn't have it, according to court testimony.  Ledezma  pulled out a gun and fired once, struck Chase Christiansen with the gun butt in the forehead and left with the backpack, according to court testimony.

Garcia, Christiansen and others were in the park inside a vehicle smoking marijuana or had been drinking alcohol, according to court testimony,. 

According to Sabo, the strongest evidence against Ledezma was a 14-second video recording by Jacqueline Ayala, who was in the backseat of the vehicle, showing  Ledezma's chin and neck.  Sabo said that from this 14-second piece of evidence that gang-unit Detective Todd Hourigan did a "fantastic job" in trying to match the neck and chin with several gang members and coming up with Ledezma.

Hourigan, a gang expert, then showed Christiansen a six-photo-lineup and Christiansen was able to pick out Ledezma and testified in court that he was positive that Ledezma was the assailant.

During closing arguments, Ledezma's lawyer Claudia Bautista cautioned jurors against drawing conclusions solely on eyewitness testimony.

Right after the robbery, Sabo told jurors that the backpack was found during a traffic stop by police with known gang members inside the vehicle who Ledezma knew.   Ledezma, however,  wasn't in this vehicle, said Sabo.

Sabo said the "fatty deposit" on the chin and "cleft chin" matches Ledezma's chin; Bautista countered that nobody said anything on the stand about a "fatty deposit" or cleft chin up until Sabo brought it up during closing arguments.

Bautista put up images of famous celebrity chins, asking jurors if they knew who these men where before revealing their identity.

Hourigan who is a gang expert testified there are 250 members of the Ventura Avenue criminal street gang, and the city only has two officer, including himself, in the gang unit.

In an interview, Sabo said Hourigan is a busy gang officer.

"It's the most active gang in the city of Ventura," said Sabo.

 

The "Adam's Apple" Case

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It was Friday evening  nearly two years ago,  a group of young people were inside a car parked at The Crosses at Grant Park in Ventura, some smoking marijuana and others had been drinking alcohol.

An armed gang member walked up to them and demanded a backpack that had been sitting on top of the car and after, he was told he couldn't have it. The assailant fired the gun, struck Chase Christiansen in the forehead with the butt of the gun and left with the backpack, according to prosecutors.

The incident took place on May 27,2011 at about 6:45 p.m. Nobody saw how the assailant left the park, according to prosecutors.

Christiansen was the only person who was able to identify Maximiliano  "Max" Ledezma as the assailant, and pointed  to him in court when he  testified  in Ledezma's  trial.

It ended Friday afternoon with attorneys giving closing arguments.

What lead to 23-year-old Ledezma's arrest was a 14 second video recording taken by Jacqueline Ayala who was in the backseat of the car. The video, which was shown to jurors, only shows a male image from the neck to mid-waist standing beside the vehicle and his voice is heard. The assailant is wearing a T-shirt.

From Ayala's video recording,  a gang investigator was able to make an arrest after an investigation, he said he identified the Adam's apple. He got Christiansen to identify Ledezma as the armed gunman.

But Ledezma's lawyer Claudia Bautista poked holes in the prosecution's case, telling jurors that this case based solely  on witness identification, a gang investigator's linking the Adam's apple in the video to Ledezma.

"This case is solely based on eyewitness identification," Bautista told jurors during her closing argument. "The sole issue here was whether Mr. Ledezma was at the Crosses on May 27."

She pointed out  to jurors that Christensen - the lone witness who identified the gunman - was  intoxicated along with the owner of the backpack, Ricky Garcia, and others in the vehicle.

Adding, "eyewitness testimony  is so sensitive and so dangerous and in order for you to rely on it, you have to be guided by the law."

Bautista said the Ventura gang Detective Todd Hourigan focused on the Adam's apple, which he described in court as prominent and concluded that it was Ledezma's and arrested him on June 6, 2011.

During cross examination of Hourigan, Bautista mockingly asked him if he had "prominent Adam's apple" training. But during her closing, she praised Hourigan, saying that he was a hardworking cop who is doing his best to put Ventura's street thugs who terrorize others in jail.

However, she said Hourigan is a gang expert, and there should be much more evidence than someone's Adam's apple, and a lone witness to put her client at the crime scene. She suggested that Hourigan put his finger on her client's photograph during the six-photo lineup when he showed it to Christiansen who picked him out.

"Detective Hourigan is sincere but he is mistaken, but he is not lying," Bautista told jurors. "He is invested in the conclusion. He is sincere, and he is invested."

Nor,did Hourigan plant evidence or had an axe to grind or was out to convict her client to get even, said Bautista.

Bautista said Hourigan lacks training in witness identification, adding that the fault lies with the Ventura Police Department who, she blames, for not giving Hourigan and other officers the proper resources to do their jobs.

"It's Max Ledezma. I know that Adam's apple anywhere," she said Hourigan concluded.  

Sabo said the defense brought in Nicky Medel as an alibi for Ledezma. She had not said a word until about 11 months ago when shesaid Ledezma was doing yard work for her at the time of the incident.

Sabo questioned why Medel  didn't  call police as soon as she found out he had been arrest.

Right after the robbery, Sabo said the backpack was found during a traffic stop by police with known gang members inside the vehicle. Ledezma knew two of those inside the vehicle but he wasn't inside, said Sabo.

Sabo said the "fatty deposit" on the chin and "cleft chin" matches Ledezma's chin; Bautista countered that nobody said anything on the stand about a "fatty deposit" or cleft chin up until Sabo brought it up during closing arguments.

Bautista put up images of famous celebrity chins, asking jurors if they knew who these men where before revealing their identity.

Sabo said there is plenty of evidence that indicates that Ledezma , whose moniker is Baby Mousie," is a member of the Ventura Avenue criminal street gang;  Bautista said her client admitted this on the stand, saying he was a gang associate.

Bautista urged the jury not to convict her client because he is a gang associate or because of the actions of a criminal street gang.

Sabo said Hourigan looked at hundreds of photo to conclude that it was Ledezma's Adam's apple.

"Clearly, you see the defendant's right eye and his nose" on his profile, said Sabo about the video.

Adding that Ledezma is guilty of aiding and abetting in this crime even though he might not have ever handled the backpack, said Sabo.  

Sabo said Ledezma got a fair trial and is entitled to one. But when jurors examine the facts and circumstances, Ledezma is guilty of robbery and aggravated assault and other related charges, Sabo told jurors.

Bautista said her client didn't do it, and that jurors can't convict him if they surmise that he might be guilty or is likely guilty or probably or perhaps he did it. She said the legal stand is beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of all the felonies, Sabo said in an interview that Ledezma could be sent to prison for 33 years.

Sabo said the key to this crime is the identification of the Adam's apple.

"That's what it really boils down to," said Sabo.

 

 

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.