Mr. Ibanez, for reasons that still are not completely clear, decided to represent himself pro per – act as his own defense counsel. Unfortunately, he did an exceedingly poor job of this, and turned what should have been a case that would be very difficult to get a conviction on into a fairly easy victory for the DA’s office.
Questions were raised about the competence of Mr. Ibanez to stand trial. Judge Stephen Mock said that he had been evaluated by Psychiatrist Cap Thomson who diagnosed Mr. Ibanez with ADD, but believed he was able to fully understand the trial, the procedure, the charges brought against him and was fully aware of his surroundings.
According to the DA’s version of events, memoralized in a September 7th press release, “At approximately 11:00 pm on July 27, 2009, Ibanez, a parolee from the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, and John Saenz and Valentin Buentello, were seen walking through an apartment complex parking lot in Davis.”
“A resident of the apartment complex noticed the three men driving through the complex slowly and then walking around a back parking lot looking into numerous parked cars. Two of the three individuals had long metal objects partially wrapped in towels in their hands,” the release continued.
“The apartment resident, who had been the victim of previous car burglaries, was suspicious and asked one of his roommates to accompany him to the parking lot,” according to the DA’s office.
“When both residents returned to the parking lot, Ibanez, Saenz and Buentello were still in the parking lot looking thorough car windows,” the release continued. “The two residents spoke to the three and asked them if they were looking for someone. One of the three men said that they were looking for their “homie” as they all walked away. The three were then seen getting into an SUV in the parking lot. Believing that the three were in the parking lot to break into cars, the resident called the Davis Police Department.”
“Davis Police Department officers arrived and located the SUV driving within blocks of the apartment complex. As officers were conducting a traffic stop, and before the car had reached a complete stop, Ibanez opened the passenger door and ran. Saenz and Buentello stayed in the car,” they continued.
“Officers chased after Ibanez who was located hiding partially under a bush in a nearby apartment complex. When they found him, Ibanez had a pair of thin gloves in his pocket. In the SUV, officers located two more pairs of gloves, several sparkplugs and porcelain chips, three screwdrivers, large wrenches and two small lights,” the account of events concluded.
To illustrate just how badly this went for Mr. Ibanez, he did not ask any follow-up questions. Nor did he know how to properly formulate the questions. Judge Mock asked him continuously if he had questions and inquired about his thoughts.
It was only once the prosecution rested that Mr. Ibanez started to recognize his mistake of not questioning the prosecution’s witnesses.
Finally, as Mr. Ibanez had a chance to call his own witnesses, he attempted to call one of the co-defendants, John Saenz, but Mr. Saenz pled the 5th and was removed from the courtroom. Next Mr. Ibanez asked to call the Police Chief as a possible witness, but was denied on relevancy grounds.
Judge Mock kept trying to give Mr. Ibañez options, and asked him if he had any other witness in mind, even without a subpoena. He then asked to call forth David Lou, one of the prosecution’s witnesses.
Deputy DA Robin Johnson argued angrily that he had had the chance on the first day to ask questions to Mr. Lou. She said that Mr. Lou did not live in the area and it would take him really long to get to the trial.
However, Judge Mock allowed it. He released the Jury and extended the trial to the following day to allow Mr. Lou to appear. The defendant was also allowed to call his father to the stand, over the objections of Prosecutor Johnson.
Shortcomings in the Case:
It is difficult to feel sympathy for Mr. Ibanez, who is only 26 and facing lengthy prison sentence, since a lot of the damage is self-inflicted. Mr. Ibanez certainly had a history of prior vehicular burglary, which of course was excluded from trial.
The evidence here is weak at best and there are a number of contradictions. The problem with this case is that there was no actual crime, it is based on the premise that they were planning to commit a crime and that was based on a number of circumstantial factors.
For one thing, Deputy DA Johnson argued that the SUV was found packed with stuff, but only six items were taken in as evidence. Having tools in a vehicle is not unusual nor would it be unusual to find a wrench, spark plugs, gloves and a screw driver.
We never found out where the items were concealed, whether they were loose, or whether there was a tool box.
Deputy DA Johnson and the officers said the shiny tools were wrapped in towels, so why weren’t the towels taken in for evidence?
She claimed there were three pairs of gloves, but only one pair was recovered. The defendant claimed he had a pair of gloves that were blue and white, but that is not the pair of gloves that were shown at trial, which were black and gray.
Moreover, we never found out who owned the SUV and what that individual does for a living. That might be important if the individual was either a mechanic or did vehicle repairs.
The witness was less than sure about his identification of Mr. Ibanez. He was asked numerous times if the defendant was one of the members in the parking lot. He never gave a definite answer, just that it was someone who looked like him. With an attorney cross-examining him properly, that point could have been fleshed out and driven home to the jury.
Officer Ryan Bellamy was placed on the stand after Mr. Ibanez’ father stepped down. DDA Johnson asked him if the witnesses were able to identify the defendant. He said with all confidence and without hesitation, “Lou was able to identify the defendant without any problems, he said ‘that’s him,’ but had issues with the other two.”
Officers Bellamy’s certainty, however, contrasts the uncertainty of the witness himself. When the witness was on the stand and asked to identify the conspirators, he said that there was a big guy clearly different in stature than the other two. But Mr. Ibanez was not the big guy.
Perhaps the crime did occur as the prosecutors claim. We will never know because Mr. Ibanez unfortunately was not qualified to represent himself. Mr. Ibanez’ conviction should be a lesson to others who choose to represent themselves without counsel. He turned a case he could have won, because the evidence was exceedingly weak, into a case that was not at all a difficult conviction for the prosecutor or the jury.
—David M. Greenwald reporting