By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Five Santa Maria MS-13 gang members each received life sentences without parole on Monday for a series of murders and other crimes they committed in Northern Santa Barbara County.
Amid a string of gang violence, murders in Santa Maria increased from three in 2014 to 13 in 2015. Another six people were killed in the city in Jan. 2016.
In March 2016, authorities arrested 15 foreign nationals from Honduras and El Salvador and detained another 40 individuals as part of a multi-state operation targeting suspects in Santa Maria’s murder spree.
A total of 10 defendants in the case were charged locally, with separate trials taking place in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Five of the 10 defendants stood trial in Santa Maria. Each of those five defendants were charged with at least 40 crimes, including nine homicides and 14 attempted murders. Last month, the they were found guilty of the majority of the charges.
On Monday, each of the defendants convicted in the Santa Maria trial received multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Juan Membreno was sentenced to 288 years in prison. Tranquilino Morales, Luis German Orellana, Juan Carlos Serrano and Marcos Torres each received sentences of 313 years.
Two of the remaining defendants signed plea agreements, while three others are currently on trial in Santa Barbara.