Infamous case against four young men in alleged gang crime finally ends after two-year battle; leaves family and friends somber.
By Antoinnette Borbon
It was a long-awaited decision for the four young Hispanic men who allegedly beat and robbed a Woodland man nearly two years ago.
On a hot summer night, the four decided to go the 7-Eleven store on Court Street, where it was alleged that one of the four young Hispanic men asked the victim’s girlfriend for a dollar. After she declined, an argument arose and soon a fight broke out near the corner of the parking lot. But no witnesses could identify the assailants. Even Scott Nichols, the victim, and his girlfriend, Dawn Beatty, claimed they could not really see who was throwing the punches – as they told the police.
But during testimony and in written reports, police identified these four men, alleging that on the night in question, both Nichols and Beatty had identified them from a field line-up and even a particular haircut that one of the defendants wore at that time.
Although the two were reluctant to testify against the four young men each time, they both reiterated, “No, I am not afraid of retaliation,” during trial testimony.
Nichols at one point stated, “I do not want to see them go to prison, I would feel bad sending kids to prison. I could not see that night, I was too busy fighting.”
Beatty stated on the stand, “The cops put words in my mouth.”
Nichols said he heard gang slurs as they were about to fight, but he did not really know who said them, only describing the boys as young Hispanics, one in a black t-shirt.
Nichols sustained a bloody nose and threw out his shoulder during the fight. He was checked out by EMTs on the scene but refused any further medical attention.
The first trial against the four ended in a hung jury. A second was declared a mistrial after receiving knowledge that a juror knew two of the defendants.
At the third and last trial, jurors could only come back with a conviction on the gang enhancement, although it did not accompany any other conviction except for with Juan Fuentes, who was convicted of second degree robbery.
After a few months and a couple motions made by defense counsel, Jeff Raven and Keith Staten, in regard to overturning the gang enhancement convictions, the district attorney decided not to push for a fourth trial. The gang convictions were upheld.
Today, it was time to hand down sentencing.
Juan Fuentes, Jose Jimenez, Anthony Ozuna and Justin Gonzales sat quietly while the judge handed down their sentence for the gang enhancement conviction and/or any other charges for Fuentes.
As each defendant faced the judge for sentencing, defense attorneys Jeff Raven, Keith Staten, Bob Spangler and Ava Landers expressed a “changed life, good behavior,” for all the young men.
Although Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson had a difference of opinion, she could not deny giving each one the chance to continue to do good.
“Your honor, I sincerely hope they are serious, the families have sat here for each and every trial and I know it has been hard on them, I do hope they stay out of trouble but only time will tell,” stated Johnson.
But Johnson refused to minimize their actions, and addressed the court about what the four men had allegedly done on that summer night. She stated the four men have been involved in gangs for years and have had a pattern of gang related crimes since youth.
Family members and friends wept as the 16-year-sentence was handed down to Juan Fuentes.
Fuentes, who had a prior strike and gang enhancements, was given the years of punishment according to the law, stated Judge Rosenberg. He was the only one of the four men who was convicted on the second degree robbery charge, having been found in possession of the victim’s bike. Two misdemeanors were dismissed.
Bob Spangler, defense attorney for Fuentes, pled with the judge to disallow the previous strike during sentencing, but it was quickly denied, although Judge Rosenberg did not feel his conviction was worthy of second strike.
Defense Attorney Keith Staten, who defended Justin Gonzales, expressed, “Your honor, It has been a privilege to defend this kid, I looked forward to our long meetings. We have spent hours talking about the next steps. He has plans for his life and continues to do well.”
While incarcerated, Justin has graduated high school and has a desire for furthering his education, stated Staten. He says Justin has plans of moving out of Woodland to start a new life once he is out of jail.
Justin was given 4 years and 8 months but, with time served, he will only have eight months left. He will do the remaining time in a state prison.
Staten asked the court to allow Gonzales to remain out of custody for the last eight months and be on probation, but it was denied. Judge Rosenberg stated he could not allow that, according to the law.
But Judge Rosenberg gave kind exhortation to all of the young men as he sentenced them one by one. Beginning with Fuentes, he said, “I know you are young and kids don’t think clearly when their brains are not fully developed but there are responsibilities for your actions and I have to sentence you according to the laws. But I believe you can continue doing well and I wish you well.”
As Jose Jimenez stood before the judge, Defense Attorney Jeff Raven expressed to Judge Rosenberg that his client had been doing very well in his life for the past two years. Raven said, “Your honor, here’s a kid who has left the gang life completely and is even doing tattoo removal, been compliant with his probation and understands if he gets in trouble again, you can throw the book at him. He deserves to be free and with his family to work on those relationships,” Raven stated passionately.
Johnson argued to keep the suspended sentence in place for Jimenez on the gang-related conviction, but Raven once again adamantly stated, “Your honor, I see no point in doing a suspended sentence, this kid knows he is going to prison if he does anything to get in trouble again, it just doesn’t make sense and I would ask that the court not to give him that.”
Judge Rosenberg ruled that Jose Jimenez will be on three-years felony probation, with time served, but upheld the suspended sentence.
Having no past criminal record, and no conviction other than the gang enhancement, Anthony Ozuna, the last of the four young men, was put on felony probation for three years. Ms. Landers, defense counsel for Ozuna, explained to the court that Ozuna did a stupid thing but has since been an upstanding kid, holding down a full time job and remaining drug free.
Landers told the court that Mr. Ozuna is going to be a father soon and has taken his life seriously now. He is excited to become a father, she stated.
Judge Rosenberg said, “I am glad to hear you have done well and I will tell you, things change once you become a father, I wish you well…I wish you all well.”
Some of the defendants will continue a substance abuse program during probation and/or prison.
It is finally the end for the four young men, but perhaps not absent a painful lesson.
To family and friends, it is the end of an emotionally worrisome two years.