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060717 jonathan david highley

Jonathan David Highley, charged with the murder of Anthony "Tony" San Juan on March 4 in Orcutt, pleaded not guilty June 7, and denied all special allegations.

Jonathan Highley was drunk, obnoxious, got into three different fistfights and was kicked out of Elmer's Bar before pulling the trigger that ended Anthony "Tony" San Juan's life in the early morning hours of March 4, according to testimony at his preliminary hearing Friday morning.

Highley, 36, is charged with murder and two special gun enhancements. His wife, Mayra Perez, was sentenced earlier this year to one year in County Jail, and probation for being an accessory to the homicide after the fact.

The testimony came from several Santa Barbara County sheriff's detectives who responded to the scene, investigated the crime and conducted interviews with several witnesses.

Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Banks was called first to testify, and said he interviewed a witness named Alex Ortiz after the incident. Ortiz told Banks that Highley had punched him in the face inside the bar, and had punched another man named Brandon Hernandez, while drinking out of a pitcher of beer. 

After punching the two men, Highley was kicked out of the bar, Banks said.

Highley tried to get back inside and was knocked down by another man. He then went to his 114 Park Ave. residence, and returned to Elmer's, according to testimony.

A young woman who was outside when Highley returned told detectives she heard a loud "boom" come from behind where she was standing, Banks continued. She said she saw Highley with a gun in hand, standing over a lifeless body in the bar parking lot.

"[She] then followed Highley back towards his apartment behind the bar, who held the gun to his side," Banks said. "She kept questioning him, then Highley turned around, pointed the gun at her towards her head, and said, 'You're lucky,' then kept walking.'' 

Under cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Mark Owens, Banks testified that two of Highley's friends, identified as Miguel Hernandez and Assael Lopez, met Highley at Elmer's that night around 11.

Kaniela Keuma, who encountered Highley at Niya restaurant prior to seeing him again at Elmer's, happened to be standing at the doorway of the bar when Highley tried to get inside, Banks said.

Keuma pushed Highley, who then challenged him to a fight, Banks added. After exchanging a few blows, Keuma landed "a good one, an uppercut straight to his jaw, which knocked Highley on the ground," Banks said. 

Highley was helped up by Miguel Hernandez and Lopez, according to testimony by Detective Adam Alegria. 

Highley then walked back to his apartment, with his two friends following closely, Alegria said. Shortly after, Keuma, his friend Kurt Mahelona and their party, left the bar. As soon as Keuma climbed into Mahelona's car, he heard a loud gunshot, Alegria said.

Alegria also testified that later in the morning after San Juan was killed, he saw Highley, Perez and their children getting ready to leave their apartment. After searching their car, Alegria said he found multiple 9 mm Glock handguns, magazines and Highley's clothes from the night before hidden in a Victoria's Secret bag underneath a child's seat in the rear passenger seat. 

Detective Wayne Flick, who testified next, said he was able to identify San Juan after finding his ID in his pocket. San Juan was found lying on the ground, next to a large puddle of blood with a gunshot wound to the head. 

Flick later questioned Lopez, who told him that Highley went home after getting punched by Keuma. 

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"Lopez told Ortiz, go home, it's over, when Tony approached and asked Ortiz if Lopez was the one who started the fight," to which Ortiz said no, according to Flick.

"Then, Miguel (Hernandez) ran out of the front home, and yelled, 'run!'" Flick said. "Lopez said the last thing he saw was Tony with a frightened look on his face, who then turned around and ran towards Elmer's." Lopez and Miguel Hernandez then left the scene. 

When Deputy District Attorney Anne Nudson asked why Hernandez told everyone to run, Flick said, "He said he had a bad feeling." 

Photos of San Juan's autopsy conducted March 7 were then projected in the courtroom. San Juan had sustained black asphalt marks on his hands, shins, knees, shoes, elbows and the side of his torso above the hip. 

San Juan also had minor scrapes, and Flick noted a small abrasion at the top of his head, caused by the button on the baseball cap he wore that night. The abrasion was consistent with San Juan striking his head under a metal railing after he fled towards the bar and crawled through the parking lot, Flick testified. 

Under Owens' cross-examination, Flick testified that Lopez indicated that when San Juan approached the two men outside of Highley's apartment, he made a fist and asked Ortiz, "Is this the guy? Where is he? Who is he?" 

Neither of Highley's friends heard any gunshot, nor did they see Highley with a gun as they fled, or recall seeing any shooting, Flick said in response to Owens' questions, adding no shooting was caught on videotape from surrounding surveillance cameras in the area.

Testimony resumes Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. at Santa Maria Superior Court. 

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


Courts/Public Safety Reporter