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During closing statements in the Javier Limon murder case, the prosecution on Thursday claimed that Northwest Santa Maria gang member Joseph Morales wanted to make an example of Limon by ordering him to be killed, as the drug dealer had failed to pay taxes to the gang. 

Morales has been on trial since August in connection to the special circumstances murder of Limon, of Santa Maria, whose body was found on Aug. 19, 2014, outside the Guadalupe Dunes by farmworkers. Evidence at the crime scene showed Limon tried to escape but was pursued, as several clusters of bullets were found at the farm fields and drainage ditch. 

A Santa Maria Superior Court jury has heard from both Morales and his former co-defendant Gregorio Agustine. Both have blamed each other for planning the murder.

At the time of Limon's death, Morales was serving time at a Lancaster prison for an attempted murder that occurred in 2006. Morales allegedly used a cellphone from behind bars and carefully planned out Limon's killing with the help of other gang members -- Bryan Rios, Arturo Granados, Peter Ojeda and Agustine, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser.

On Aug. 18, Limon was picked up in Santa Maria and taken to a farm field outside Guadalupe, under the guise of a heroin deal, to be shot per Morales' order, according to Gresser. She argued Limon was killed because of the gang culture, its rules and priorities. 

"The Mexican Mafia controls everything," Gresser told the jury. "Morales is entrenched in the gang. He's a primo. He has blessing from the Mexican Mafia member, and he testified to that." 

Gang members engage in a pattern of vicious criminal activity, Gresser continued, which includes assault, murder and torture. The primary objective  of members is to commit and profit from those crimes while ensuring people pay their debts to the gang. 

"They don't profit by selling cookies like the Girl Scouts," Gresser said. 

The prosecutor contended Morales kept ensuring that taxes were collected by gangs, despite his claims of being demoted in the gang a month before Limon's death. She urged the jury to question why Morales would be involved in negotiating with gangs for someone who was demoted from his position, as he claimed. 

"He's working for the Mexican Mafia and two different crime families at the time of the murder," Gresser said. "He is a sureno from a criminal street gang, and you can't rely on his statements alone. He's not someone who's been 'stepped down' and has no involvement." 

While Morales blamed Agustine on stand for the murder, "Morales [was the one] who wanted Limon killed," said Gresser, adding that Morales was the one who continued to communicate with crime families to check on people who were in good standing with the gang. 

Morales specifically "said to get rid of [Limon] and 'take care of it,'" Gresser continued. "Agustine testified that [Morales] told him Limon didn't want to pay taxes, was no good and believed to be an informant."

Gresser added that the defendant's girlfriend told detectives Morales was responsible for taxing Limon and that he was attempting to locate Limon before the murder. 

While Morales was in prison and not near the murder scene, he still is liable for the homicide as he conspired with his fellow gang members, Gresser argued. 

Closing statements resume Friday morning.

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

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter