DA Opts To Go Route of Secret Indictment for KetMoRee Suspects

YoloCourt-20

Six defense attorneys and their six co-defendants were geared up for a 15-day, three week, preliminary hearing that would have laid out the evidence that the prosecutors had against the co-defendants accused in the September 2015 stabbing death of 23-year-old Peter Gonzales at the popular KetMoRee night club.

Instead, they learned with everyone else that the Yolo County DA’s office had, over the weekend, convened the Yolo County Grand Jury who issued the indictment against the six co-defendants.

In a statement from the DA’s office, “On May 1, 2016, the Yolo County Grand Jury issued an Indictment charging six men with the alleged gang-related murder of a man in a nightclub located in the City of Davis on September 19, 2015.”

The six men indicted are: Martyn Alex Contreras, age 25; Joseph Gregory Sandeno, age 20; Zachary Thomas Sandeno, age 22; Victor Manuel Vergara, age 22; Carlos Biviescas, age 24; and Anthony Daniel Rivera, now age 26.

The DA’s office press release indicates, “All six men who were indicted are believed to have resided in Solano County at the time of the killing. It is alleged that all six men were affiliated with a Norteno criminal street gang at the time of the crime. The victim, who was visiting the City of Davis to participate in a family wedding, died after being stabbed in the attack.”

According to the indictment, 22-year-old Victor Vergara appears to have been the actual one to stab Mr. Gonzales.  The DA’s office adds a special circumstance allegation indicating their accusation that he intentionally killed Mr. Gonzales as an active participant in a criminal street gang.  He is also charged with enhancements of premeditation and deliberation and personal use of a deadly weapon.

The others were indicted for murder, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury and participation in criminal street gang activity.

The use of Grand Juries, conducted in secret, without defense or defendants present, without the ability for the defense to cross-examine witnesses, to challenge the quality of the evidence, or to know the extent of the case the prosecution has against the defendants, has declined, with most cases going the route of a public preliminary hearing.

A preliminary hearing is a mini-version of a public trial.  The DA has a much lower standard of proof – probable cause, which is used to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for the case to go forward to trial.

It has been over seven months since the murder in the early morning hours of September 19 stunned the city of Davis.  The sixth and final arrest was made in early December when Joseph Sandeno, 20, was taken into custody by Vacaville Police.

According to reports, the victim, Mr. Gonzales, had been in Davis with his family to attend his sister’s wedding on that Sunday, September 20. The wedding party ended up at KetMoRee on Friday night. Mr. Gonzales was coming to the aid of his two brothers who had been assaulted in the bar. He was then fatally stabbed.

The murder has shocked the sense of many in the community, who are questioning current policies that have allowed restaurants like KetMoRee to convert to after-hours nightclubs. KetMoRee has been a popular late night location with college-aged crowd, but often has been the source of trouble in the form of fights and drunkenness.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 Comments

  1. The Pugilist

    Obviously one of the guys stabbed the guy, getting the other five guys for murder is going to be more difficult.  Now that the DA is hiding the ball, it makes me suspicious.  I think Grand Juries need to go.

      1. The Pugilist

        There are gang issues all the time that go the preliminary hearing route.  This isn’t even a local gang and from what I understand is probably not witness dependent as it was caught on video.

        1. nameless

          With gangs there is always the danger of witness intimidation.  Video still has to be authenticated, and who knows how much the video shows…

        2. David Greenwald

          I think there are a few points that are important to remember.

          First, at preliminary hearings, generally speaking police officers are the ones that testify.  Why?  Because the rules of hearsay are not as applicable – they are allowed to testify to what they were told, whereas in a trial most of that would have to come in through direct witnesses.  As a result, I don’t think gang intimidation is the reason that the DA’s office went the grand jury route.  One suggestion was that the six defendant case might be problematic, though I have seen five a number of times.  I don’t think we know the answer, but given how most prelims work, I doubt the gang explanation is it.

      1. The Pugilist

        There are different functions between the use of grand jury to indict versus the use of grand juries to investigate official wrongdoing.  Not sure I agree with your point, I think they are pretty limited on the latter.

  2. hpierce

    Sure appears the Grand Jury route was cost-effective, time-effective, and they’ll (defendants) all still have their weeks/months in court…  I’m good, unless David has reason to believe any are factually innocent…

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