Two alleged MS-13 gang members arrested during the March 2016 Operation Matador sting have been offered a plea deal by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.
During their Friday morning appearance in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and defense attorneys Particia Dark and Harold Mesick agreed to return Oct. 18 after conferring with their respective clients, Jose Wilfredo Abarca Soriano and Jose Mejia Orellana.
Both men agreed to waive time for a proposed trial, previously scheduled to begin Oct. 28 but vacated during Friday's hearing, through December 2021 to allow their attorneys to prepare and consider the offer.
"Those offers and negotiations will be valid through the end of this year, Dec. 31," Bramsen told Judge John McGregor, whose Santa Maria courtroom has hosted the trial for the last three years.
"It's my understanding counsel will both be discussing with their client and make a decision whether they want to accept or make a counter offer," Bramsen said.
Orellana and Soriano are charged separately from the larger multidefendant case scheduled to go to trial next February.
Twelve defendants — all alleged members of the transnational criminal organization — were indicted by a Santa Barbara County grand jury on 50 felony counts, including murder, criminal street gang conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder.
Investigators believe the group is responsible for 10 murders that occurred in the Santa Maria Valley over a three-year period.
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McGregor, who also heard from the defense in the larger case, agreed to keep Andrew Jennings as the court-appointed attorney for Tranquilino Robles Morales.
Jennings, a former member of the court's conflict defense team, was appointed as Morales' attorney after the Santa Barbara County Public Defender's Office declared a conflict of interest in the matter.
"While the conflict defense team has indicated they are able to provide counsel, the issues unique to this case would preclude the court from allowing that appointment," McGregor said from the bench, adding that the size, scope and intricacy would make it difficult for a new attorney to step in without delaying the case.
"Mr. Jennings and Mr. Morales have developed a confidential relationship based upon meetings, review of discovery and defense tactics," he continued. "The court concludes that the orderly administration of justice and confidential relationship developed requires granting of the motion."
Requests to introduce an amended indictment and to take one defendant, Emedalio Bonilla Mejia, off calendar were continued to Nov. 15.
Mejia is currently being held in Ohio on charges relating to a separate federal indictment.
Last December, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, who presides over the Southern District of Ohio, ordered Mejia to remain in Ohio until the federal criminal case is completed.
Trial in the larger case is scheduled to start Feb. 18, 2020.