LOS BANOS - A gang homicide court hearing was postponed earlier this week
in Los Banos, but there were conflicting accounts regarding the reasons
for the delay.
Attorneys involved in the case said Wednesday’s hearing for homicide
defendants Fabian Cruz Roman, 16, and Diego Leal, 18, was tabled, in part,
due to the large number of people inside and outside the courtroom. The
crowd included supporters, family members and friends of the defendants
and the victim in the case. Several of those people were possibly tied
to rival street gangs, officials said.
Both teenage defendants have been charged as adults with murder and street-gang
participation in connection with the death of 17-year-old Raymond Sevilla.
The South Dos Palos teen was shot to death Dec. 7, 2014, at Rancho Dos
Amigos Park in the 2200 block of San Luis Street in Los Banos.
Travis Colby, Merced County deputy district attorney, and defense attorneys
Bill Davis and
Jeffrey Tenenbaum said potential safety issues were discussed with court deputies and Judge
Harry Jacobs prior to the expected homicide hearing. The hearing was expected
to be emotionally charged.
“We all agreed there were heightened security concerns and that was
one of the reasons for the continuance,” Colby said. “In courtrooms,
there’s always high emotions that bring out the best and the worst
in people. I’d be very disappointed if (security) wasn’t a
Tenenbaum and Davis also agreed security was discussed and was one of the
reasons the hearing was postponed. Additionally, Davis told the judge
he had only recently gotten involved in the case and wasn’t ready
to proceed on Wednesday. The public was told the hearing would be shelved
until next month to allow Davis adequate time to prepare.
“There’s a reason why they’re putting in a new court
building in Los Banos,” Davis said. “The (current) building
is not designed optimally for all of the concerns that can come up, but
that’s about all I can say on the issue.”
Earlier this year, officials broke ground on a new $32.5 million courthouse
in Los Banos.
“There were quite a few people there and emotions were certainly
running very high,” Tenenbaum said of Wednesday’s hearing.
Colby and Tenenbaum agreed deputies always had control of the courtroom.
There were no incidents.
“I certainly think to err on the side of caution was the best choice
in that scenario,” Colby said. “I rely on the trained law
enforcement officers in the courtroom and one of them did say there were
heightened risks, and that’s what I relied upon.”
However, court CEO Linda Romero-Soles said “security did not play
a factor in continuing this case to September.” Romero-Soles said
the hearing was only postponed to allow Davis, who was only recently appointed
to the case, more time to prepare.
The hearing was rescheduled to Sept. 2 in Los Banos.
Whatever influence safety concerns may have had on Wednesday’s hearing,
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke did agree with the attorneys in saying
the deputies were prepared and “more than capable of handling the
Warnke said court deputies “have always and will always keep everybody
in the courtroom safe.”
“Our guys absolutely could’ve handled it, but we also want
to put people’s minds at ease inside the courtroom because that
allows them to focus their concerns on their clients and, for (the prosecutors),
on the case for the people,” Warnke said.
Warnke said deputies would “be prepared like they always are prepared”
for the Sept. 2 hearing.
“If we need to, we’ll work with Los Banos police and make sure
that everything is taken care of both inside and outside the courtroom,”
Warnke was the sergeant in charge of court security in Los Banos prior
to being elected sheriff last year.
“Every day the deputies work and prepare and are very ready to protect
court staff and the public,” Warnke said.