by Antoinnette Borbon
The courtroom was packed with family and friends of the four young Hispanic men, waiting anxiously to hear the decision on the plea offer.
Attorneys Jeff Raven, Keith Staten, Bob Spangler and Ava Landers would express to the court that their clients were rejecting the plea deal offered by DDA Robin Johnson.
The offer given was for the young men to take a conviction on the assault charge, waiving their right to appeal.
Judge Rosenberg expressed concern about another trial. He asked DDA Johnson if she felt it possible to get a conviction.
But the allegations of a juror lying during voir dire would come to the attention of the court first. Johnson stated that the floor person told DDA Martha Holzapfel that the juror said he lied because he did not like the prosecutor.
It was understood, allegedly, that he only voted against the others because of the way he felt about DDA Johnson.
Johnson stated,”I think we can get a verdict your honor, we had a 10 to 2 split.”
Judge Rosenberg stated, “So I am concerned, we’ve had three mistrials.”
But the offer being rejected by all four defendants would mean another trial.
Defense counsel Ava Landers expressed her concern over the validity of the floor person’s statements to DDA Martha Holzapfel.
Both defense and Johnson decided on a date of October 6.
If convicted, the four young men could face up to 15 years in prison.
But they decided to take the risk and reject the plea, opting for another trial.
A juror, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke candidly to the Vanguard about the mistrial involving the four young men accused of robbing and assaulting a Woodland man at the 7-Eleven.
The four young defendants – Jose Jimenez, Anthony Ozuna, Justin Gonzalez, and Juan Fuentes – have been charged with robbery, assault and added gang enhancements.
The mistrial concluded with only one conviction for robbery, on Juan Fuentes, who was also convicted for resisting/obstructing a peace officer, and with convictions of gang charges on all four.
Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson contends that the crimes were committed to further promote the Woodland gang, “The Norteños.”
The juror stated, “I was never convinced by the prosecution of anything more than the four kids were possible gang members but that was about it.”
He said, “But I did feel some of the witnesses were lying. I felt some of the jury panel was biased because the boys may have appeared to be gang members but it never changed my mind of innocence or guilt.”
He continued that he felt jurors were tired and did not understand the law in deciding on a verdict correctly.
He told the Vanguard, “I feel bad for the young boys and was convinced, through the video and evidence presented, they were in fact innocent.”
The juror wishes them well with the outcome of their case.
DDA Johnson had offered a plea deal of 3.8 years if the defendants were to accept an assault conviction, which must accompany the gang charge to stick.
The four young Latino males were accused of robbing and assaulting a Woodland man in June of 2013. The jury hung on whether the four men assaulted and robbed the victim that evening.
For the third time, a mistrial was declared in this case.
The second trial in this case had been set to begin in January. It was continued to April, but on the day trial was to begin, a juror admitted to knowing one of the defendants; therefore, it too, was declared a mistrial.
The first trial for the young men took place in November of 2013. The jurors hung on all counts except for one for Juan Fuentes, who was found guilty of a misdemeanor evading police. But this time around, as stated above, the jury convicted all four defendants on the gang-related enhancement charges.
Juan Fuentes, as mentioned above, this time was convicted of robbery, as well as resisting/obstructing a public officer, while the jury hung on the assault charge. For the others, the jury hung on the robbery as well as the assault charges.
As the outcome sits right now, there is an inconsistency with the law. The jury found the defendants guilty of a violation of California Penal Code §186.22(a). Under that section, “Any person who actively participates in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years.”