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Jurors on Friday were introduced to one of the prosecution's star witnesses in the Javier Limon murder case -- a gang member who originally was charged in relation to the killing but since agreed to testify against the defendant now on trial.

Joseph Morales, of the Northwest gang, stands accused of allegedly orchestrating the August 2014 murder of Limon, whose body was found by fieldworkers in Guadalupe. Autopsy results showed that Limon suffered 10 gunshot wounds that struck his lung, heart and liver.

The prosecution is alleging that Morales ordered Limon's murder over unpaid drug debts using a cellphone from behind bars. The defense is contending that another high-ranking gang member could have ordered the killing, as Morales had lost his rank to make such an order. 

Prior to the testimony of former co-defendant Gregorio Agustine -- a once high-ranking gang member within the West Park gang who had connections to the Mexican Mafia -- Sgt. Jarrett Morris testified how Agustine first approached law enforcement in hopes of striking a deal. While Agustine initially accused Ulisses Guzman of ordering the alleged murder, he later recanted and pointed to Morales as the one responsible. 

Morris said that in early 2015 he met with Morales at a Lancaster prison, where he was behind bars, and told Morales that Agustine had come forward to police and implicated him in Limon's murder. Morales denied any involvement. 

Months later, Morales' former girlfriend Josie Alejandre cooperated with police and recorded their phone calls. In those calls, Morales again denied involvement and said he only was protecting himself but also was heard blaming Agustine for implicating him to authorities, Morris testified. 

When Agustine took the stand, handcuffed in his blue-and-orange County Jail uniform, he told jurors that he had agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and will receive 25 years in prison before being eligible for parole, a sentence contingent upon his cooperation. 

Originally from Orange County, Agustine told the jurors how he came to run the streets with high-ranking members of gangs, from a Bakersfield prison where he was incarcerated for drugs sales to the streets of Santa Maria and Los Angeles.

"I am nervous because it's my first time testifying in court against someone," said the soft-spoken Agustine, who explained that in both his gang and family culture, informing police was prohibited.

Agustine said he first joined West Park at age 13 as he grew up in West Park territory near Bunny Street, Mary Avenue and Morrison Avenue. Later, he became friends with local dealers in Bakersfield where he was first imprisoned for drug possession.

Agustine testified that after his release, he would travel back and forth from Santa Maria to Bakersfield to sell drugs, then to Orange County and Los Angeles after cultivating more drug connections. He admitted that he had wanted to get on the right path, so he started working in the farm fields in Santa Maria, before his friend convinced him to start dealing again. 

After facing charges in Southern California, Agustine testified he fled back to Santa Maria, continued selling and eventually began working with two gang members, Arturo Renteria and Guzman, who told him to start taxing his own sellers. He eventually taxed his sellers $300 a month.

"At first, I didn't want to be part of the politics, I just wanted to take care of my people and make money," Agustine testified.

As he rose in the ranks, Agustine became a "shot caller," with the power to give orders, for the city of Santa Maria and entire county of San Luis Obispo. He even collected taxes in parts of Los Angeles, Oxnard and Bakersfield, he said. 

At the time Limon was murdered, Agustine testified he was only collecting taxes from local gang members, and that he wasn't in that position for long. Only after Limon's death did he garner more responsibilities, he testified, adding that he rose to power after doing favors for Mexican Mafia members and others.

Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday. 

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


Courts/Public Safety Reporter