Family Members, Victim Ask for Life in Prison for Accused after Brutal Attack; Judge Upholds 16-Year Sentence Despite Accused’s Mental Health Problems

By Leslie Acevedo and Talia Kruger

VENTURA, CA – The victim and family and friends gave impact statements, after a 62-year-old woman was beaten with a metal pipe on the Ventura pier, during a sentencing hearing for her attacker here Friday in Ventura County Superior Court. The judge sentenced the accused to 16 years in prison although the speakers asked for life in prison.

Ernesto Estrada pleaded guilty on Sept. 15 to the felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon, great bodily injury enhancement during commission of felony, crime involving great violence and prior serious/violent felony among others in return for a 16-year prison sentence.

Friday, the victim and her family appeared in court to give statements and advocate for a life sentence instead of the 16 years imposed in the plea deal.

Judge Bryce A. Young allowed the reading of victims’ impact statements. The accused was present in custody assisted by Defense Attorney Melanie Miles.

The victim, Jane Doe, first began by explaining a little background, explaining how she was a mother of two daughters, two sons-in-law and eight grandchildren.

Doe also explained how she had recently retired in June 2021 from Santa Barbara Unified School District as a data specialist for special education.

Physically, according to Doe, two viable teeth are now gone from her mouth, there is nerve damage around her mouth, scarring on her face, and she has some undiagnosed neurological issues.

In the last three to four months, the victim has started mixing up numbers and months, and told the court that she has exaggerated startle reflexes, the words “watch out” or “look out” freeze her and a wave of terror goes through her.

“100 times I’ve told people I’m fine, but reality is I’m not.” Doe stated. “There have been multiple events that triggered me and continue to do so.

“It was not what I expected for the first year of retirement,” said Doe, explaining that she has had to cancel two trips due to her injuries. The victim stated she has had to go to 21 medical and dental appointments as a result of the brutal attack.

She expressed gratitude that she was still alive and had not suffered a brain bleed. According to Doe, “If the pipe had hit me one inch lower I would have lost my eye.” And she explained that she was grateful it was her rather than a child who was attacked.

Despite all of this, Doe explained she has “no animosity towards Mr. Estrada,” and explained how she had learned of his mental illness.

However, she remained firm in her position that Estrada should be in custody for the rest of his life because “[h]e has been convicted of five escalating violent crimes; this is not an event, this is a behavior.”

According to Doe, “Since the evening I was hurt, I have felt that he hurt me specifically to get off the streets,” The victim felt the accused “was desperate and in fear” the night of the attack.

For these reasons, she explained, she felt that it would be best for Estrada to remain in custody for the rest of his life so he never has to face that fear again.

Following Doe’s statement, a family friend of the victim spoke. The family friend of the victim read aloud their letter, stating the attack was “unprovoked, unwanted, and unplanned.”

The family friend stated she “will never walk the pier without thinking of the attack that took place, thinking twice about going somewhere alone, and continue to have a heightened sense of awareness in public.”

“I hope [the accused] will get the help he needs and may the courts seek the justice [the accused]  deserves.” she stated.

The next to give a statement of impact was the 13-year-old granddaughter of Doe, who said the fear of the unknown terrified her since that day, and she feels her life has been “flipped upside down.”

The granddaughter stated that the attack “opened her eyes to see that the world is not safe and may never be,” noting after the attack she went to the pier to see the spot where the attack had happened, and her grandmother’s blood was still there.

The granddaughter stated, “I believe that people who can hurt so many people so many times without showing any signs of remorse deserve their whole life in prison,” and noted her family is constantly worried, spending money on medical expenses, and left with permanent trauma.

The sister of the victim recalled the events of the brutal attack and the following days. “[The victim] had always been such a trusting person with a free spirit” according to Doe’s sister. Now, the “assault” made her fearful of strangers.”

The sister of the victim ended her statement by saying “please keep [the accused] off the streets.”

Following her sister’s statement, the fifth victim statement was read by a victim advocate on behalf of the family friend who helped stop the attack.

Recalling the events of the attack, as the attack was happening, [family friend] stated that he felt like he was in a war zone.

The family friend stated he had to “disarm our attacker, help the bleeding [victim] to make sure he wasn’t going to attack us again or flee the scene.”

The family friend was able to punch the accused in order to stop the attack on the victim. According to the friend, “I feel if he is let out he will escalate to killing someone.”

The victim’s ex-husband referenced the severity of Doe’s injuries and the impact of the attack on the family and strongly requested the prosecution to continue the case as a four-strike case, and emphasized “the defendant needs to be kept off the street.”

The last victim statement was delivered by Doe’s daughter who was overcome with emotion recounting the attack and the recovery process her mom had to go through.

She explained how grateful she was that her mother was alive but explained how much resentment she had for how much was taken from her mom and family this past year.

According to Doe’s daughter, “I do resent that my mom had to cancel her retirement trips…due to her physical injuries.” She explained how her mom was the type of person who never treated herself, that she was so proud that her mom was finally going to do something for herself but this attack made it so she couldn’t.

Following the victim impact statements, Judge Young asked for arguments from the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Theresa Pollara, who argued the motion she filed illustrated the path to violence that “is much worse than you heard in the victim statements.”

Pollara explained how Estrada’s acts of violence went all the way back to the 80s, incidents escalating to the point where he began using weapons of opportunity, including “a chain with a rock, a fishing pole, a pipe.”

She emphasized the fact that the victims of his attacks were innocent, “people who have done nothing to him.”

She stated the prosecution is “willing to take this to trial…with all of our knowledge, all of our experience, that this is the kind of case that is meant for three strikes punishment.”

This is the only way to keep the public safe, said Pollara, advocating for a life sentence. “As sad as it is, there are some people who, in order to keep them from hurting other people, need to be in prison where they can be watched 24/7 by trained guards.”

Following this statement, Judge Young explained how he was impressed with how much the victim had recovered but asked Pollara if she was concerned at all with putting the victim through another trial.

Pollara had explained that she had been in  contact with the victim and that she was willing and able to attend court if he was to be put on trial for the life sentence.

Assistant Public Defender Melanie Miles argued Estrada suffers from mental health issues and that “this is not something made up.” and referenced the documents the court had for Estrada’s mental health diversion psychological evaluation.

“Everything [in this case] is screaming mental health issues,” said Miles, noting he was 61 and when he would have served 85% of his 16-year sentence, it would be a fair sentence.

On rebuttal, Pollara argued the accused suffered from mental health issues should be considered as a reason for keeping him in prison for the rest of his life, so that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to harm anyone again.

Pollara also pointed out that Estrada had a gun registered under his name that he had not turned in and denied ownership of. She explained that even a 91, 92-year-old could still pull the trigger.

Miles argued that the gun Pollara was referring to was purchased in 1985 and that Estrada’s mother, who now suffers from dementia, had destroyed the gun. She also pointed out the fact that Estrada is homeless and would have no place to keep and store weapons.

Judge Young explained how, given the considerations of new California state laws regarding old convictions, given a judge’s omission of one of Estrada’s over 30-year-old strikes, and given the mental health reports submitted, he decided to stand by the 16-year sentence.

About The Author

Talia Kruger is a 3rd year Criminology major at UC Irvine. She plans to get her paralegal certification and enter the legal field before eventually applying to law school. Her aim is to become an environmental attorney or criminal defense attorney, and advocate for criminal justice reform.

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