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Fatal Beating Case Ends in Mistrial for a 2nd Time

Court: Four months after first hung jury, panel deadlocks on whether former gang member took part in '99 slaying in Ventura.

September 19, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a second time, a mistrial has been declared in the case of a former gang member accused of participating in the September 1999 beating death of an 18-year-old man outside his Ventura apartment.

Jurors deliberated five days before indicating Wednesday that they were hopelessly deadlocked on whether Ramiro Salgado, 23, was guilty of second-degree murder for allegedly kicking and striking William Zara.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. declared a mistrial after jurors said that further deliberations would not help.

"This outcome sends its own message about the case and whether it can be proven," the judge said afterward. "You're a second jury that has reached a similar result in this case."

Four months ago, O'Neill declared a mistrial after jurors voted 9 to 3 for Salgado's acquittal. This time, the panel was divided 10 to 2, with the majority voting for acquittal.

Jurors hearing the second trial said the split had been the same for two days. And, as was the case in the first jury, the dispute centered on Salgado's statements to police indicating he had participated in the attack.

During a tape-recorded interview with investigators, Salgado admitted stomping Zara as the teen tried to shield himself from gang members who suspected him and his friends of reporting their noisy party to police.

After Wednesday's mistrial, three jurors said the panel could not agree on whether Salgado was telling the truth or telling investigators what he thought they wanted to hear. The jurors said the panel listened to the taped interview and pored over the transcript but could not reach consensus.

"There just wasn't enough evidence against him," said one juror, who declined to give his name. All three jurors said they doubted the case could ever be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors now must decide whether to try the case for a third time.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin Drescher, who did not prosecute the case but represented his office in court Wednesday, requested that Salgado remain in jail for two weeks while prosecutors discuss a possible retrial.

Attorney Richard Loftus angrily objected and asked O'Neill to immediately dismiss the case and release his client, who has spent the last two years behind bars.

"The people have had two bites at the apple," Loftus said. "There is no apple left."

O'Neill agreed that two weeks was too long and set a hearing for Monday afternoon.

As he left the courtroom Wednesday, Salgado smiled and walked arm-in-arm with Loftus to a nearby holding cell. Salgado remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Outside the courtroom, half a dozen relatives of Salgado held each other and cried.

"I think I can speak for all of us and say we are very happy," said Ventura resident Virginia Arroyo, the defendant's aunt and godmother. "It was obvious that he was innocent."

Arroyo said she hopes her nephew will be released next week but said she remains concerned prosecutors will try to put the case before a third jury.

"The district attorney apparently does not want to let go," she said.

No relatives of the victim were present in the courtroom.

Salgado is the fifth and final defendant to stand trial in the slaying of Zara, a Ventura Theater stagehand who was beaten, kicked and stabbed by as many as 15 assailants the night of Sept. 25, 1999.

According to court testimony, a fight began when associates of a west Ventura gang confronted Zara's neighbors and accused them of calling police to report their party on East Warner Street.

A fight ensued and when Zara stepped out on his porch with a baseball bat, a gang member took the bat from him and struck him on the head. Another attacker then beat Zara with a shovel, according to the testimony.

Within minutes the attackers fled and police arrived to find Zara lying in his own blood. He later died from his injuries.

Four others were convicted last year of murder in connection with the attack. They are all serving life prison sentences.

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