Subscribe for 33¢ / day

The prosecution and attorney representing a man with alleged ties to a transnational MS-13 gang who was indicted in 2016 for criminal street gang conspiracy are still working toward a settlement, and will return to court next month. 

Rafael Lainez Castro and his co-defendant, Jose Eleuterio Mejia Orellana, made a brief appearance at the Santa Maria Superior Court on Friday morning to have their matter continued to Nov. 17.

No pleas were entered.

Following a meeting between attorneys and Judge John McGregor to discuss the status of negotiations, all agreed to continue the matter to give the prosecution and defense counsel more time to come to a settlement agreement for Castro. 

At Castro's last court date, Dunlap requested that the probation office file a pre-plea report, which contains sentencing recommendations if Castro were to plead to his charges. 

While getting close to a resolution Friday for one of the felony conspiracy counts, "We're having difficulty reaching a mutual agreement for count five (criminal street gang conspiracy) of the indictment," Dunlap told the court. 

Dunlap also contended that he wanted a chance to question the author of [Castro's] presentencing report. 

"I'm not sure if that'll be scheduled for Nov. 17, or it'll be allowed or not allowed. I think we have the right to question and to correct the Probation Department [report] on how their conclusions were reached," Dunlap said.

The judge agreed to have the matter heard. 

Along with Castro and Mejia Orellana, 14 other alleged gang members were also indicted by a grand jury in July 2016, but for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and special gang allegations. The indictment followed four months after Operation Matador, referred to as the biggest sting in the area by Santa Maria Police. 

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

The sting nabbed more than a dozen individuals believed to have ties to the gang and believed to be linked to numerous unsolved homicides in Santa Maria over a three-year period between January 2013 and March 2016. 

Due to the high public interest in the case, earlier this year some attorneys on the case sought to have a gag order issued for law enforcement and prosecution, which would have prevented them from speaking about the case. 

One attorney sought to have the media barred from covering the case, arguing that publishing any information about court proceedings would taint the jury pool once the case goes to trial. 

However, the judge issued an amended protective order, limiting the release of documents and certain comments by law enforcement and prosecution outside of court proceedings, but allowing media inside the courtroom. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


Courts/Public Safety Reporter