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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Newly Identified Suspect in '97 Gang Slaying Denied Bail

Crime: Man who confessed in battery and drug case allegedly told informant he did shooting that his cousin is serving time for.

March 22, 2001|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oxnard gang member suspected of pulling the trigger in a deadly shooting in downtown Santa Barbara four years ago is being held without bail this week after pleading guilty to unrelated battery and drug trafficking charges.

Gerardo Reyes, 28, was jailed in Ventura County after pleading guilty Tuesday to battery, drug possession and using his 7-year-old daughter to transport a softball-sized bundle of cocaine.

Reyes had been free on $250,000 bail. But Judge James P. Cloninger ordered him held without bail pending sentencing. Prosecutors argued Reyes poses a flight risk after being identified as the shooter in the Santa Barbara slaying.

"There certainly is more of a motive for him to flee," said Deputy Dist. Atty. John C. West.

Three years ago, Reyes' younger cousin, Efren Cruz, was sentenced to 41 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder and attempted murder for killing one man and wounding another during a gang-related shooting at a Santa Barbara parking garage.

Cruz had gunpowder residue on his hands, and a witness identified him as the triggerman.

But Ventura County prosecutors, tipped by an informant, recently obtained new evidence that they say proves that Reyes--not Cruz--was the killer. The evidence includes a taped confession by Reyes to the informant, court records show.

Reyes' defense lawyer, Steve Powell, declined comment Wednesday.

Santa Barbara prosecutors have expressed doubts about the validity of the evidence uncovered by Ventura County officials and plan to oppose a move to overturn Cruz's conviction. The matter is pending before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa.

Reyes was arrested by Santa Barbara authorities in 1997 in connection with the shooting, but charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Last year, Reyes was arrested on suspicion of stabbing a man in the neck during a gang-related fight at a restaurant in north Oxnard. Oxnard police later executed a search warrant at Reyes' home and found 160 grams of cocaine in his 7-year-old daughter's backpack, West said.

Reyes was charged in Ventura County Superior Court with assault with a deadly weapon, participating in a gang attack, possession of drugs for sale, using a minor to transport cocaine and other crimes.

Last week, a jury found Reyes guilty of participating in a gang crime but deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction on the assault charge.

Reyes returned to court Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of battery resulting in serious injury. He also pleaded guilty to two drug charges, averting a separate trial on those counts.

Reyes faces up to 12 years in state prison when sentenced April 17.

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