Attorneys want to dismiss unvaccinated jurors in MS-13 gang murder case

Sep. 21—Prosecution and defense attorneys on Friday agreed to dismiss unvaccinated jurors in a jury trial of five Santa Maria defendants accused of committing murder for the street gang MS-13, although a judge hasn't made a final ruling.

Ten defendants, who are alleged members of the transnational criminal organization, are each accused of murder, conspiracy and other charges in connection to 10 gang-related deaths in the Santa Maria Valley from 2013 and 2016, according to officials.

The 10 were split into two trial groups of five each on Dec. 20, 2019, after Judge John McGregor ruled that the Santa Maria courtroom was not big enough to hold one single trial for all of them at once and could violate their constitutional rights.

The first group includes Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres, Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno, Traquilino Robles Morales, Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano and Luis German Mejia Orellana; and the second group includes Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez, Jose Juan Sanchez Torres, Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez and Olvin Serrano. All have pleaded not guilty.

The first group's trial began on July 12 in Department 8 of Superior Court in Santa Maria and is currently going through the jury selection process.

The second group was reassigned to Department 12 of Superior Court in Santa Barbara on Aug. 27, and its trial is tentatively slated to begin on Oct. 12, according to records. Each trial is expected to last about a year.

The vaccination issue was raised by attorney Adrian Andrade, who represents Membreno, during open court for the first trial group in Santa Maria.

McGregor asked what the process would be with screening vaccinated versus unvaccinated jurors.

Andrade said they could present each individual with a short form asking their vaccination status, while Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen suggested asking each prospective juror if they are fully vaccinated or not.

McGregor said he will take it under consideration when jurors are called this week.

The first trial group is scheduled to reappear at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Department 8 of Superior Court in Santa Maria.