A dozen individuals believed to have ties to an international criminal street gang — MS-13 — have been indicted on first-degree murder charges related to numerous unsolved murders in Santa Maria over a three-year period from January 2013 through March 2016.

The July 8 indictment by the Santa Barbara criminal grand jury relates to March's Operation Matador, where 15 alleged MS-13 gang members or associates were arrested during a collaborative multi-agency effort that involved search warrants being served and arrests being made simultaneously in Santa Maria, Bakersfield and other cities.

The indictment contains 50 felony counts and covers 10 deceased victims and 14 living victims, and has been charged against Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez, Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres, Tranquilino Robles Morales, Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno, Jose Narcisco Escobar Hernandez, Luis German Mejia Orellana, Jose Juan Sanchez Torres, Juan Carlos Urbina Serrano, Olvin Serrano, Emedalio Mejia Bonilla and Ezequeil Escalante-Rivera.

Charges include 10 counts of first-degree murder, with special circumstances of multiple murder, lying in wait and criminal street gang enhancements. Additionally, one of the murder counts also includes an enhancement of torture, and the 12 also face special allegations of using a firearm to cause a death.

The men are charged with 14 counts of conspiracy to commit murder, five counts of attempted murder, 19 counts of criminal street gang conspiracy, one count of witness intimidation by force and one count of conspiracy to commit street terrorism.

The district attorney has opted not to seek the death penalty for the first-degree murder charges, instead choosing to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole if the individuals are convicted.

According to the indictment, the 12 men were responsible for the 2015 shooting deaths of Santa Maria residents 17-year-old Oscar Daniel Joaquin; Ulises Garcia-Mendez, also 17; and Brayan Arturo Mejia-Molina, 18, as well as the 2016 fatal shootings of Javier Murillo-Sanchez, 23; and Aaron Sanchez Hernandez, 23; Agustin Jaime Montano-Barajas, 29; and 25-year-old Alexis Morales. They were also allegedly responsible for attempting to commit several murders in Oxnard.

The grand jury also issued a second indictment related to Operation Matador, charging five additional people arrested in the sting with four counts of conspiracy to commit murder, with a special allegation of benefiting a criminal street gang, specifically MS-13.

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Additionally, the seven-count indictment also included one charge of conspiracy to commit street terrorism, one count of criminal street gang conspiracy and possession of a concealed firearm.

Jose Eleuteria Mejia Orellana, Jose Francisco Mejia Orellana, Jose Wilfredo Abarca Soriano, Rafael Lainez Castro and Mayra Ortega are charged in the second indictment.

The individuals were expected to be arraigned on the charges Monday in Santa Maria Superior Court, but the hearing was continued to Friday, July 22. Fifteen of the 17 suspects are in custody at Santa Barbara County Jail. Warrants have been issued for Jose Eleuterio Mejia Orellana and Jose Wilfredo Abarca Soriano.

April Charlton writes for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter@WordsDawn

 

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