By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A jury convicted three MS-13 gang members on Monday of a series of murders and other crimes committed in northern Santa Barbara County, the final verdict in a case that consisted of two separate trials.
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.
In April, the defendants in the Santa Maria trial were found guilty of the majority of the charges they faced. Then in May, each of the five defendants received multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Of the remaining five defendants in the case, two signed plea agreements, while three other stood trial in Santa Barbara.
A Santa Barbara jury on Monday convicted the three remaining defendants who stood trial of multiple counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and gang conspiracy charges. The defendants convicted in Santa Barbara are: Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez and Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez. [KSBY]
Each of the men face multiple life sentences. Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 26.