Judge rules no prosecutor misconduct in 2007 SP homicide case

August 21, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times 

A  Ventura County judge ruled last week there was no prosecutor misconduct in a case centered on a 2007 Santa Paula slaying involving two co-defendants accused of shooting down a man just east of the city.

On Wednesday, August 16, Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger denied a motion to recuse the District Attorney’s Office based on allegations of “improper intimidation and dissuasion of a key witness” filed by defense attorney Ron Bamieh. The motion had been filed by Bamieh on behalf of  Manuel Rodriguez, 25, one of the co-defendants charged in the drive-by killing of 27-year-old Edgar Flores in August 2007 in the unincorporated area of Santa Paula. Rodriguez is from Santa Paula.

Defense attorney Joseph O’Neill represents the other co-defendant in the case, Paul Carrillo, 25, of Ventura. Rodriguez and Carrillo are cousins.

Flores was shot multiple times in the early evening of August 24, 2007 as he approached a pickup truck that had passed his house in the 100 block of Ferris Lane several times before stopping in front of it. When Flores asked the pickup truck’s passengers what they wanted, he was gunned down and the vehicle sped away with Carrillo allegedly yelling a gang name.

Bamieh accused Deputy District Attorney Stacy Ratner of threatening to void a deal for a lesser sentence made with Miguel Gonzalez, 26, of Santa Paula, who allegedly drove the two men to the scene of the murder. All three men are gang members.

Gonzalez allegedly changed his testimony from what had been discussed with Ratner during a hearing held close to a year ago. Victor Salas, Gonzalez’s former defense attorney, testified Wednesday that Ratner was upset Gonzalez did not testify as discussed, and Salas said he was concerned she would pull the deal made with Gonzalez in exchange for his testimony. 

Salas said he told his client that he must tell the truth and repeat what he had told Ratner. In a declaration filed with the court, Salas stated Ratner expected Gonzalez “to enhance the truth” and made it clear that if he did not testify as expected she would “pull the deal” that had been negotiated.

Bamieh claimed Gonzalez’s testimony changed greatly after Salas spoke to his client, who enhanced his testimony to more deeply implicate Rodriguez. 

O’Neill also objected to the deal cut with Gonzalez with the prosecution and called it “corrupt”. Prosecutors allege Carrillo was the shooter after Gonzalez witnessed Rodriguez hand him the gun.

On September 27, Cloninger declared a mistrial after jail phone conversations surfaced that raised questions about Gonzalez’s credibility - notably that he was forced to falsify his testimony to keep his plea bargain. His case is still pending.

Ratner said there is no evidence of misconduct or prejudice against the defendants, and since Gonzalez is no longer a witness in the case there is no reason for the court to dismiss the case.

Cloninger said while there was an observable difference in Gonzalez’s testimony after Salas spoke to his client, the evidence did not show prosecutorial misconduct.

The trial for Rodriguez and Carrillo is in the jury selection stage. The trial has been beset with twists and turns, including an incident last year when one of the defendant’s mothers started exchanging courtroom blows with a potential juror over courtroom seating.

At the time of Flores’ murder it was reported that a vehicle near his residence had “Rest in Peace” signage for a murder victim. After the 2005 homicide a relative of Carrillo’s was tried and acquitted of the charge; another man was later convicted.

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