Ronaldo Ayala was convicted Wednesday of three first-degree murder charges stemming from the drug-related slayings of three men in a Southeast San Diego garage in 1985.
The jury also found that special-circumstances allegations involving the slayings were true, which means that Ayala, 37, of San Diego, could face the death penalty.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ordered a penalty phase to begin in Ayala’s trial with the same jury on Oct. 31. They will only have two choices in their sentence recommendation: death or life in prison without possibility of parole.
The two special-circumstances allegations that were upheld stated that there were multiple murder victims and that the slayings occurred during robberies in the April 26, 1985, incident.
The verdicts were returned after the jury deliberated about nine hours over three days, beginning Thursday of last week, and including time spent by the jury rehearing testimony from a witness.
Ayala was also convicted of the attempted murder of Pedro Castillo, 42, who survived the attack and testified against him at his trial.
Ayala was also convicted of robbing Castillo and trying to rob the three murder victims, identified as Ernesto (Cha Cho) Mendez Dominguez, 30; his brother-in-law Marco ZamoraVilla, 31; and Jose (Cucuy) Rositas, 24.
Ayala showed little reaction to the verdicts, which were read under tight security.
Ayala’s attorneys, Elisabeth Semel and Robert Boyce, had told the jury of heroin sales out of the garage by two of the murder victims and had tried to discredit by bringing up his past involvement with drugs.
Semel declined comment about the verdict.
“We’re in this awkward stage. . . . We obviously believe very strongly that Ronnie’s life should not be taken,” Semel said.
Semel protested the Oct. 31 start of the penalty phase, telling Jones she would not be ready to proceed then because she had “mountains of evidence to go through.”
Ayala’s brother, Hector, 36, will go on trial next, after his brother’s penalty phase is finished. A third co-defendant, Jose Moreno, 49, will stand trial next year.