Santa Barbara – As reported here in April 2011, five of Santa Barbara’s “Westside” gang members—two of whom were 17-year-old minors at the time—were involved in the assault and stabbing of a rival in “Eastside” territory. Since then, all five have been held without bond pending trial as adults in the courtroom of Presiding Superior Court Judge Brian Hill.
On the night of the violent and bloody attack, the five suspects were in a vehicle seeking out likely rival targets, but had initial difficulty finding any Eastsiders to target. Richard Soto, who had purchased a number of knives for the group, alighted from the car to return home while the others continued their pursuit of prey and ultimately attacked a 19-year-old victim.
The following day, with police detectives investigating the crime, Aldaz’s vehicle was pulled over in a routine traffic stop, at which time several knives and assorted controlled substances were discovered and the upholstery in the vehicle was determined to have multiple blood stains.
While awaiting trial in Santa Barbara County Jail, Richard Soto, 23, Robert Aldaz, Juan Carlos Villa, Juan Maldonado, and Richard Pineda faced varying individual multiple charges, including attempted murder with gang enhancements. According to Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Smith, all five faced a prison term of life without parole. “Mr. Soto, although he was not present at the time of the attack, faced the same life sentence as a co-conspirator to commit murder,” Smith reported to the media.
Smith indicated that her office imposed a requirement that each of the five defendants and co-conspirators accept a plea agreement; if any had insisted on going to trial on his charges, the offer of a non-life sentence for any would be withdrawn. Given that, Maldonado, 19, pleaded no contest to attempted murder with a gang enhancement and street terrorism and received a sentence of 17 years in state prison. Pineda, now 18 and a minor at the time of the attack, pleaded no contest to attempted murder with gang enhancement and received a 15-year sentence. Villa received a sentence of 19 years. Aldaz, who did not file a plea due to absence of his counsel, will be sentenced at a later date, while Soto pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit assault likely to produce great bodily injury and street terrorism and received a sentence of three years in prison.
The disparity in sentencing and plea agreements, according to Smith, is derived from “the circumstances of the offense and their roles or involvement in the offense.”
Photos: Santa Barbara County Jail Booking
Santa Barbara Independent: Alleged Gangbangers to Stand Trial