Two Los Angeles area gang members were convicted this week of shooting and killing two brothers from Cayucos more than a dozen years ago in a Santa Monica clothing store.
David Robles, of Lennox, and Jessie Garcia, of Los Angeles, both 34, were found guilty of two counts of murder Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court after a five-week jury trial in the shooting deaths of half brothers Michael and Anthony Juarez on Oct. 27, 1998.
Anthony Juarez, 19, and Michael Juarez, 27 were visiting the Westside Clothing store, a Santa Monica hip-hop apparel shop owned by a cousin, when the shooting occurred.
“We’re very, very relieved,” said Ginger Blackstone, of San Luis Obispo, the mother of Anthony Juarez. “It’s been a long, painful 12 years.”
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Michael Juarez, a Morro Bay High School graduate, was the son of Bill Juarez and Beth Panutsos.
Anthony Juarez, a Coast Union High School graduate, was born to Bill Juarez and Blackstone, Bill Juarez’s ex-wife. At the time of his death, Michael Juarez was married with a young daughter. Anthony Juarez was engaged.
The brothers were looking into starting their own clothing store and that’s why they visited their cousin’s store in Santa Monica, according to Blackstone.
Bill Juarez, of Cayucos, said Thursday that his family has suffered on a daily basis since the murders, which contributed to a suicide of another relative in the family.
“There’s no such thing as closure for people who go through these things,” Juarez said. “It’s just the word people say when we’ve run out of English words to try to describe it. The verdict came out the right way this time.”
Santa Monica Police Detective Michael Bambrick said that DNA evidence from a ski mask left by Garcia at the scene helped connect investigators to the two convicted men.
They face maximum sentences of life without the possibility of parole at separate scheduled sentencing hearings set for May.
The crime is believed to have resulted from a hit ordered by the Mexican Mafia over drugs and money, but their intended target was not there that day, Bambrick said.
The Juarez brothers were in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said.
The victims’ cousin, Frank Juarez Jr., and a customer in the store that day were also shot, but survived. Robles and Garcia were convicted of two counts of attempted murder for those shootings.
Two additional suspects in the shooting haven’t been identified as police continue to investigate.
Police weren’t using DNA evidence to tie suspects to crimes in 1998, Bambrick said, and didn’t connect both Garcia and Robles to the ski mask until more than five years after the incident. Both men had past criminal records and had been in prison serving sentences at the time of the DNA testing.
Witnesses tracked down by detectives identified Garcia from the scene of the shooting (he’d taken off the ski mask). Witnesses recognized Robles as the getaway driver.
This week’s verdict concludes the second trial for Robles and Garcia, who were prosecuted in 2009 for the deaths of the Juarez brothers, resulting in a hung jury with nine voting in favor of guilt and three for acquittal.