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3 Gang Members Plead Guilty in Fatal Stabbing

Charged with the involuntary manslaughter of a gay man in Riverside, they needn't testify against the accused killer.

September 25, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Three Inland Empire gang members have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the June 2002 stabbing death of a gay man outside a bar in downtown Riverside.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the three will not have to testify against the fellow gang member charged with the stabbing death of 40-year-old Jeffrey Owens of Moreno Valley outside the Menagerie nightclub. Owens and a friend were allegedly attacked to enhance the street gang's reputation, a prosecutor said. Viviano Cruz Marin, 26, and David Leal Martinez, 29, agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the murder. Judge Edward Webster on Tuesday sentenced Marin to nine years in state prison, and is scheduled to sentence Martinez on Oct. 31. The third gang member, Miguel Angel Ramos, 29, received a three-year sentence after pleading guilty as an accessory to murder.

Martinez's attorney, Frank Peasley, said they belonged to a "small party crew" known as the Dark Side. Peasley said his client disposed of the knife used in Owens' stabbing. Prosecutors said Marin and Ramos took part in the attack.

"I think we had a shot for getting a not guilty [verdict], but hearing 'gang member' really taints a jury," Peasley said.

The three will not have to testify against 20-year-old Dorian Lee Gutierrez, the man charged with fatally stabbing Owens and trying to kill Owens' friend Michael Bussee. Gutierrez's murder trial will probably begin in 2004.

In the preliminary hearing for Gutierrez, police said he had admitted to stabbing Owens. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of 40 years to life.

Riverside County prosecutor Anne Corrado said she intends to negotiate a plea bargain with a fifth defendant in the case, Ramon Rabago, 19. Rabago will have to agree to a sentence greater than Marin and Martinez's because "he and Gutierrez started the fighting.... At the very least, it can be argued his involvement was greater than [those two]."

Owens' killing was first prosecuted as a hate crime, but Riverside County Superior Court Judge Patrick Magers threw out the special allegation after the preliminary hearing. In his ruling, the judge noted that, among other information, Owens restarted the fight by pursuing the men after the initial confrontation had subsided.

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