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Ex-Ventura Gang Member Released as D.A. Rejects 3rd Trial in Fatal Beating

September 24, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After two mistrials and two years behind bars, a former Ventura gang member accused of participating in a deadly 1999 assault was ordered released from jail Monday as prosecutors decided not to retry the case.

Ramiro Salgado, 23, stood in a Ventura County courtroom, his arms clasped behind his back, and smiled as prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss murder and related gang charges.

Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. granted the request and ordered Salgado freed by the end of the day.

Salgado was the fifth and final defendant to stand trial for murder in the death of 18-year-old William Zara. The other four were convicted

Zara, a theater stagehand, was outside his apartment the night of Sept. 25, 1999, when members of a Ventura gang accused Zara's neighbors of reporting their loud party to police.

When Zara tried to defend his neighbors, he was beaten with a baseball bat and a shovel, and kicked and stabbed in the chest. He died of his wounds.

Last week, O'Neill declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked on whether Salgado was guilty of second-degree murder.

After five days of deliberation, the panel was divided 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal.

In May, O'Neill declared a mistrial after jurors split 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal.

In both cases, jurors said, the dispute centered on Salgado's statement to police about his participation in the attack.

During an August 2000 recorded interview with investigators, Salgado admitted kicking and stomping Zara as the teen tried to shield himself from the angry mob. After last week'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.

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