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Three men found guilty of multiple murder charges during MS-13 trial in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A Santa Barbara jury found three men guilty of multiple first-degree murder charges for a string of local shootings and murders between 2015 and 2016 that were linked to the MS-13 gang.

Jose Balmore Saravia Lainez, Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez, and Jose Narcisco Escobar Hernandez were all found guilty of multiple murder charges, along with special circumstances including conspiracy to murder and gang conspiracy charges, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

The Santa Barbara trial was the second of two involving 10 members of the MS-13 gang who killed nine people and conspired to murder 14 additional victims in Santa Maria and Oxnard between 2015 and 2016, said District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

The first trial against five men in Santa Maria concluded in April, with a jury finding the men guilty of the murders of the same nine victims and the conspiracy to kill the same 14 additional victims.

Each defendant in Santa Maria was sentenced to either 288 or 313 years to life in prison without the possibility of being released.

All of the men involved were arrested during the early morning hours on March 3, 2016 when a months-long investigation into the spree of murders ended in a massive sweep with over 150 law enforcement officers and federal agents executing multiple arrest warrants.

Officers and agents from Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, Kern County, and in Columbus, Ohio arrested more than a dozen people and detained roughly 40 others in what was called "Operation Matador."

In July 2016, a criminal grand jury indicted 12 defendants on 50 counts, and 10 defendants asserted their right to a trial, according to Dudley.

The Santa Barbara County Superior Court split the trial into groups of five in late 2019 because all 10 defendants could not be accommodated in one courtroom.

The first trial began in March 2020, but after only 10 days the COVID-19 pandemic put it on hold indefinitely.

The first trial re-started in Santa Maria in July 2021, and the second trial in Santa Barbara began in October 2021.

"Two juries – in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara – listened to many months of testimony from hundreds of witnesses.  And after the seven-year-long wait for the victims’ families and surviving victims, justice has been served," Dudley said.

"This case was by far the most complex gang case in the State of California. This successful prosecution was possible because of the extraordinary prosecutors and other members of this office who work tirelessly to ensure that justice was served.”

The three men found guilty in Santa Barbara on Monday will be sentenced on July 26 in Santa Barbara, where they each face multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

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Jade Martinez-Pogue

Jade Martinez-Pogue is the Assignment Editor and web journalist at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Jade, click here

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