After more than a week of waiting for the jury to return with its verdicts, two of the three men on trial for the 2010 homicide of George Ied — who was beaten to death as he walked home from work early in the morning — were found guilty of second-degree murder Friday. The jury spent five full days deliberating.
Michael Cardenas and Ismael Parra both face a minimum of 15 years to life in prison. Judge Brian Hill declared a mistrial on charges against Ismael’s brother, Miguel, after the jury couldn’t unanimously agree on his guilt. Some of the jury shed tears as the verdicts were read. Members of the Cardenas and Parra families also cried as the verdicts were unveiled.
The jury reached its conclusion after finding the three not guilty of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation and deliberation.
The jury foreperson, when questioned by Judge Hill, indicated the group was split 10-2 on a second-degree murder charge for Miguel Parra and couldn’t agree on lesser charges such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Miguel could be retried on the murder charge, or a plea bargain could be reached. “We’ll see what’s going to happen,” said Miguel’s attorney, Sam Eaton, adding that he found it interesting the jurors didn’t agree on any of the lesser offenses. Prosecutor Hans Almgren said he would discuss the case with others in his office before deciding how to proceed.
Both Cardenas and Ismael Parra were also convicted on a separate battery charge for an incident earlier that night — caught on camera — where Parra appears to punch an unknown victim outside a liquor store. The two were also found guilty of street terrorism. The jury was hung on the street-terrorism charge against Miguel, who wasn’t charged with battery because he wasn’t present for that incident.
“It’s tough,” said deputy public defender Michael Hanley, who represented Ismael. “I know that Ismael and his family want to make clear it’s tragic all the way around, especially for Mr. Ied and his family.” During the trial, Ismael took the stand to testify, a rarity in murder cases. “He wanted to get up there and tell his story,” Hanley explained. The decision not only opened him up to cross-examination by the prosecutor and two other defense attorneys, but also to potential retaliation.
During the trial, both Ismael and Steven Santana pinned most of the blame on Cardenas. They said the incident started because of him and he was the most violent. Santana said all four men were involved in the attack.
But defense attorneys attacked the veracity of Santana’s statements, noting he admitted to lying in interviews with police, even after he said he would tell the truth in exchange for his testimony. On the stand, Santana said everyone struck the victim. “Steven Santana is not a credible source of information when it come to assigning culpability,” said Adam Pearlman, who represented Cardenas.
Santana pleaded guilty in 2011 to voluntary manslaughter, and testified against his former friends. He will be sentenced in the months ahead and could receive anywhere from time served to 21 years in state prison. On the stand, he admitted he was looking out for himself when he lied to investigators. While he minimized his involvement at first, Santana eventually admitted to punching Ied himself, along with the other three.
Almgren, in response to a question from a reporter, addressed the fact that Santana started out lying to investigators. “I’ve never had a case where someone has walked in and confessed to murder,” he explained. “It’s a progression. Imagine having to turn your back on who you are and where you live on a dime.”
Almgren said that in presenting evidence and witnesses, Santana included, he tried to “give the jury the most accurate portrayal” of what occurred. “It looks as though jurors were firm in their believe there was a conscious disregard for human life,” Almgren said, adding he respected the jury’s decision.
While Almgren pushed for a murder conviction, defense attorneys tried to persuade the jury that an involuntary manslaughter charge was more appropriate. Both Eaton and Pearlman noted in their closing arguments to the jury several instances of assaults involving gang members that didn’t end in someone dying. “Death in these circumstances is not common,” Eaton said. So the four involved in this particular altercation, according to the attorneys’ argument, wouldn’t have thought it was going to end in death. Santana, on cross examination, said he didn’t intend to kill Ied and he didn’t think any of them did when the beating began.
First-degree murder includes intent and “malice aforethought.” Second-degree murder also includes malice, but also typically involves a higher degree of recklessness or carelessness. Involuntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or an unlawful killing that takes place “during the commission of a lawful act which involves a high risk of death or great bodily harm that is committed without due caution or circumspection.”
All the lawyers agreed in their closing arguments that the case was not one of voluntary manslaughter, while defense attorneys disagreed with Almgren that the case was first-degree murder, or murder at all.
Almgren told the jury the evidence pointed toward murder. He noted blood was found inside the Parras’ home and on their clothing, and a bloody palm print found on a vehicle near Ied’s body was similar to that of Cardenas. Almgren asked the jury whether it was likely murder if a man dies as a result of four other grown men in their twenties stomping and beating him. “Absolutely,” he said. He explained that Ied dying was a natural and probable consequence of their actions. “Why would you keep hitting someone who’s unconscious unless you want to kill them?” Almgren asked.
“First-degree murder in this case is a joke,” said Pearlman. Hanley told the jury his client was trying to end the altercation, not join it. “Is he guilty of bad judgment? You bet,” he said. “Murder? No way.”
But it was up to the jury to parse out the actions of the three men as presented in testimony and match those actions up with the law. They came early and stayed through lunch some days, sifting through the voluminous material, testimony, and instructions to arrive at their conclusion.
The killing of a non-gang-member by a group of gang members sent waves throughout the city, as citizens ratcheted up cries for a gang injunction. Such an injunction was formally proposed just months later by Police Chief Cam Sanchez and District Attorney Joyce Dudley, and the injunction is making its way through the court system. The killing was the city’s fifth gang-related homicide since 2007.