The trial for five men charged in an MS-13 gang murder case has been reassigned to a Santa Barbara court earlier this month after a judge in December 2019 split the original defendant group in two.
In total, 10 defendants have been charged in connection to 10-gang-related deaths in the Santa Maria Valley from 2013 to 2016, according to officials. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The case against Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez, Jose Juan Sanchez Torres, Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez and Olvin Serrano was transferred to a Superior Court more than 60 miles south in Santa Barbara, according to an order approved by Judge Gustavo Lavayen, who presides in Santa Maria.
All hearings for the case will be heard by Judge Michael Carrozzo, who presides over Department 12.
The five men are part of a group of 10 defendants that was split in half by Judge John McGregor Dec. 20, 2019, after he ruled that a lack of sufficient space to hold the defendants in one courtroom could violate their rights to a fair trial.
A prosecutor has opposed a defendant’s motion to exclude photo lineup evidence for a jury trial in which five alleged members of MS-13 are accused of murder and other-gang related charges.
Additionally, McGregor said the court didn’t have the estimated $130,000 to $170,000 to make the courtroom modifications to simultaneously seat 10 defendants, and their defense teams, each at separate tables.
The trials for each group of five was originally set to occur in consecutive order, with each trial expected to last about a year, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is leading the first trial.
The first five defendants include Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres, Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno, Traquilino Robles Morales, Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano and Luis German Mejia Orellana, whose trial began July 12.
The second trial group listed a start date of Oct. 12, although that was vacated and a new date has yet to be determined, according to court records, which also listed the lead prosecutor as Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan.