Flores: Charges dismissed against Santa Paula man accused in 2007 murder
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: September 04, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
In a move that seemed to surprise several members of the jury, a Superior Court Judge dismissed a case against a Santa Paula man on trial in a 2007 gang-related slaying after ruling there was too little evidence to substantiate a verdict if the defense were to appeal.
After Thursday’s ruling by Judge James Cloninger Manuel Rodriguez, 24, was free to go home after being incarcerated for six years. The trial of Rodriguez’s co-defendant Paul Carrillo will continue, although his attorney signaled the court his client is ready to deal for a lesser charge.
Prosecutors said Rodriguez was in the passenger seat of a truck when his cousin, Carrillo, fatally shot 27-year-old Edgar Flores on August 24, 2007 in front of Flores’ home on Ferris Lane. Flores had several relatives who also lived in the neighborhood, an unincorporated area just east of Santa Paula.
Both Rodriguez and Carrillo, 24 of Ventura, faced murder charges with special enhancements tied to their status as documented gang members. The special enhancements included street terrorism while participating in a street gang.
The shooting occurred after Flores allegedly advanced on the pickup truck holding the gang members at about 5:30 p.m. and asked why they were driving back and forth in front of his home. After the shooting a witness told Ventura County Sheriffs that they heard someone in the pickup truck yell a gang name as the vehicle sped away.
This was the second trial for Rodriguez and Carrillo, and both faced sentences of life in jail without parole.
In September Cloninger declared a mistrial in the first trial after information surfaced about the credibility on the witness stand of the man who allegedly drove the truck during the shooting, Miguel Gonzalez of Santa Paula. The court action came after new information was revealed that Gonzalez, who had already testified, made phone calls from jail telling people he had lied on the witness stand to get a plea bargain deal from the district attorney.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty in 2009 to voluntary manslaughter and carrying a loaded weapon in connection with the killing. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in exchange for his truthful testimony.
Defense attorney Ron Bamieh had filed a motion August 28 to dismiss Rodriguez’s charges, arguing there was insufficient evidence - based on witnesses who changed their testimony on whether or not Rodriguez was in the truck at the time of the shooting - to support a conviction if the case were to be appealed.
Bamieh’s motion was supported by the judge, who said Rodriguez may or may not have been in the vehicle. Even if he had been present and was aware a killing was about to take place, Cloninger ruled there was too little evidence that Rodriguez had planned or acted in the murder.
Carrillo’s defense attorney Joseph O’Neill said Carrillo is willing to plea to manslaughter, an action that is pending.
When jurors returned, a relative of Flores’, who asked not to be identified, said it was “easy to see” that some of the jurors would be surprised at Cloninger’s ruling that Rodriguez was no longer on trial. Flores’ relative declined to give more comment.
The trial was beset with twists and turns that included a defendant’s mother exchanging courtroom blows with a potential juror over seating in the courtroom.