A judge ruled Tuesday that two alleged West Park gang members should stand trial for the death of Luis Alberto Castaneira last year in Santa Maria.
Castaneira was killed during a confrontation Sept. 10, 2016, that occurred outside a home believed to be associated with Northwest Santa Maria gang members, in the 900 block of West McElhaney Avenue.
Defendants Pedro Santos Mora, 20, and Abdu Rai Delgado, 24, also face a special criminal street gang allegation in addition to the murder charge. Mora is alleged to have wielded the murder weapon during the incident.
Mora is represented by attorney Adrienne Harbottle, and Delgado is represented by attorney David Bixby.
A third defendant, Daniel Montelongo, 18, was the first to be charged in the case, and earlier this summer pleaded to being an accessory after the fact. A fourth defendant, Fernando Garibay, pleaded to assault causing great bodily injury.
The preliminary hearing that began Monday concluded Tuesday morning after two Santa Maria police detectives were recalled to testify.
It is alleged that the four West Park members -- Mora, Montelongo, Delgado and Garibay -- were in a car, with Delgado driving and Mora in the front passenger seat.
Mora reportedly told Delgado to turn onto McElhaney Drive, which he did. Mora then told everyone that he knew one of the homes was associated with rival gang Northwest Santa Maria, Santa Maria Police Detective Shawn Fuggs testified.
Two men, one identified as Castaneira, were in the front yard as the car drove by. Castaneira, reportedly high on methamphetamines, raised his arms and called out. As he saw Castaneira, Delgado made a U-turn and parked a few houses down, according to testimony.
Castaneira aggressively approached the car and challenged the men. Mora then got out of the car and an altercation ensued, while a passenger in the car yelled out, "West Park!"
Shortly after, Mora fatally wounded Castaneira with a knife, which the defendants got rid of in Nipomo, according to testimony.
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Detective Scott Casey was recalled to the stand Tuesday and said that the defendants were "putting in work" in benefit of a criminal street gang when they retaliated, fought then eventually killed Castaneira.
Mora's attorney, Harbottle, asked Casey if acting in self-defense during a fight would be considered "benefiting a gang" or "putting in work," to which Casey said "could be both," as killing a rival member elevates their gang status.
Prior to Judge John McGregor handing down his ruling, the defense made their case for the duo, with Bixby maintaining that Delgado remained in the car at all times, had no idea Castaneira was going to be killed, and that the idea he drove the car to McElhaney Avenue with the intent to fight Northwest members was speculative at best.
In fact, Delgado was “upset, angry when he found out there was a knife,” said Bixby, which indicated that he was unaware that a murder would take place.
Harbottle argued that it wasn’t her client but rather Montelongo who pointed out the two Northwest members, and furthermore, “nobody actually saw Mora with a knife.” There was no evidence of either man intending to do anything other than drive around and attend a quincenera party later.
Foley countered that both men should be held to answer; Delgado for aiding and abetting by helping conceal the weapon, intentionally driving down McElhaney and making a U-turn and stopping the car when he could’ve kept driving.
As to Mora, regardless of whether he saw Castaneira running at him knowing he was armed, he still decided to fatally stab him at the scene, said Foley.
After hearing all attorneys the judge held the duo for trial on murder and gang allegation charges, agreeing that both knew Northwest members frequented McElhaney Avenue, drove away after the incident and hid the murder weapon.
"As to [Mora], there is sufficient evidence to hold him to answer based upon being identified by the witness as the stabber, and [the statement], 'I think I stuck him good,'" said McGregor.
While there's a chance the actual stabber could try to pin the crime on someone else, "the court's not in a position to assess that," he added.
The pair will return to court Oct. 19 for arraignment.