Gang Homicide Hearing Postponed, Conflicting Reasons Given

Merced Sun Star || 7-Aug-2015

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 concern (Wednesday).”

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 situation.”

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 said.

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.

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