The attorney for a man charged with multiple murders allegedly linked to an international criminal gang in Santa Maria wants to close a Santa Barbara County Superior Court hearing on motions seeking to dismiss charges.
Stephen Dunkle, who represents Marcos Sanchez Torres, 24, in the case stemming from Operation Matador and later Santa Barbara County Criminal Grand Jury indictments, will argue his request during a hearing on Sept. 21 before Judge John McGregor.
Attorneys for the 12 defendants facing 50 felony criminal counts in connection with 10 killings and other crimes expect to argue their so-called 995 motions, seeking to set aside the indictment, in November.
But Dunkle’s motion, and another from the prosecution team led by senior deputy district attorney Ann Bramsen, will be argued Sept. 21, Judge John McGregor said during an August hearing.
In addition to Dunkle seeking to seal, or close, the future hearing, Bramsen has proposed referring to witnesses by pseudonyms instead of their real names,
The hearings for the 995 motions would be the first time to hear some of the evidence against the men. The 4,000-page grand jury transcript has been sealed along with other documents affiliated with the case for the past two years.
“It is my belief that there is a reasonable likelihood that if references to the grand jury transcript were published as a result of the hearing not being closed, Mr. Torres’ right to a fair and impartial trial would be prejudiced based on the dissemination of the details alleged during that proceeding,” Dunkle wrote in his motion requesting an order to close the 995 hearing set for November.
He argued using pseudonyms covered only part of the interest in maintaining the confidentially of grand jury proceedings and safety of witnesses.
His client faces nine counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and 36 additional felony counts.
“Among those pages are many inflammatory allegations against Mr. Torres and his co-defendants, including the gruesome alleged details of 10 murders,” Dunkle wrote.
He noted the case has attracted “considerable publicity,” and said closing the hearing would protect Torres’ right to a fair trial and due process.
“We respectfully submit that the court should grant this motion to prevent the prejudice to Mr. Torres’ rights to a fair trial and due process, which will occur if the testify at the grand jury proceeding is made public,” Dunkle said.
While the judge had expected to hear the 995 motions in September, those hearings were delayed to hash out Dunkle’s motion so the judge can decide whether to ban media and the public from the courtoom in November.
Those written 995 motions also have been filed under the unusual cloak of secrecy implemented for the case, with any details about specific criminal activity redacted.
Dunkle said his motion seeking to set aside the grand jury indictment and the prosecution team’s reply were replete with references to information from the sealed transcripts leading to his request to close the hearing.
Attorney Guylyn Cummins, who represented KSBY-TV during an earlier attempt to implement a broad gag order on the attorneys, police and press, said a judge cannot close a hearing unless the proposal passes a compelling interest test.
“It’s a really strict First Amendment test that the courts have to follow,” she said.
Even in trials involving drug cartels, judges allowed a very narrow level of secrecy, she added.