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Former gang member testifies at murder trial

 Barrera, left, and Reyes

A Lompoc man convicted in 2011 for the gang-related murder of a teenager will get a retrial thanks to a 2014 California Supreme Court ruling and a new law that went into effect earlier this year.

Richard Mariano Reyes was one of two men found guilty of the 2009 killing of 14-year-old Daniel Rodriguez in a gang-related shooting. Both Roberto Barrera — who also was convicted of murder in the case — and Reyes are members of the Lompoc street gang VLP, or Varrio Lamparas Primera.

Reyes’ case was petitioned on the basis of the 2014 case of People v. Chiu, according to Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Lynmarc Jenkins, a case which changed the rules regarding how defendants are convicted of first-degree murder. Reyes initially appealed his conviction, but the judgment was affirmed in 2013. He re-petitioned after the Chiu case was decided. 

According to Dillon Forsyth, Reyes’ new attorney, the case came back to the Santa Maria Superior Court from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit brought it back on the basis of Chiu, Jenkins said. 

In addition, a new law, SB 1437, went into effect Jan. 1 and changed how criminal defendants can be prosecuted for felony murder.

The felony murder rule allowed defendants to be convicted of first-degree murder if a victim died during the commission of a felony, even if defendants are accomplices.

But both the new law and the court ruling are affecting the case. 

Before the Chiu ruling, according to Jenkins, the natural and probable consequences theory was a valid path to first-degree murder. 

Under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, prosecutors didn't have to prove that an accomplice knew that his or her dangerous conduct would result in a death. Jenkins said that the law presumed that he or she knew because of the danger involved.

The jury didn't have to agree with the argument but only had to agree that the murder was committed in the first- or second-degree, according to Jenkins. 

After the Chiu ruling, prosecutors could no longer argue natural and probable consequences for first-degree murder, although it still could be used to get a second-degree murder conviction. Yet under SB 1437, prosecutors could no longer use the same argument to get any murder conviction.

In this case, both Reyes and Barrera were accused of being the triggermen in the shooting. Jenkins said that the district attorney used both arguments to get a first-degree murder conviction for Reyes, but the appeals court couldn’t determine how the jury reached Reyes' conviction, so the case was kicked back to Jenkins' desk.

He was given two options: reduce the conviction to second-degree murder and have it sentenced accordingly, or retry the case on the basis of first-degree murder without using the natural and probable consequences theory. 

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Jenkins said a second-degree conviction with a gun charge was offered to settle the case, but so far that offer has been rejected. 

The sentence for a first-degree murder conviction is 25 years to life in prison, whereas a second-degree conviction is 15 years to life in prison. Reyes was previously found guilty of a gun charge in addition to murder, which adds 25 years to life to either the first- or second-degree murder conviction. 

Jenkins now is moving to retry the case on the basis of first-degree murder. When a case is retried, Jenkins said, a defendant could be found guilty of the charge, not guilty of the charge, or be found guilty of a lesser offense, such as second-degree murder. 

Reyes could still be found guilty on second-degree murder under an implied malice argument, Jenkins added, which argues a defendant knew his dangerous conduct would result in a death. 

While SB 1437 comes into play with the case, its constitutionality is in question following the rulings of several trial judges. In July, a Ventura County judge denied a petition of a defendant who applied to be re-sentenced under the new law, according to the Ventura County Star. The law's constitutionality hasn't been determined by an appeals court yet. 

Due to the voluminous amount of discovery in the case, Jenkins anticipates that the case won’t be heard until the beginning of next year.

“We will be working to make sure we have everything and the defense has everything,” Jenkins said. “This will take some time.”

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Lompoc juvenile sentenced to 8 years for gang-related shooting

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