D.A. to Retry 3 on Conspiracy in Drive-By Case
Despite a judge’s doubts about the case, the Ventura County district attorney’s office has decided to retry three alleged gang members whose first conspiracy trial ended in a hung jury.
“We think the conduct is serious enough that we should pursue it,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth, who heads the gang prosecution unit.
But Asst. Public Defender Duane Dammeyer called the new trial “a waste of time and money.”
The three Thousand Oaks men--Adolfo A. Alvarez, 19, Wade Caddin, 19, and Joseph Cruz, 23--were among eight suspected gang members who allegedly planned and carried out an April 27 drive-by attack in which shots were fired at a Thousand Oaks house but no one was hurt. The men, all reputed members of the Small Town Hoods gang, allegedly plotted the shooting to avenge the wounding of a fellow gang member.
The district attorney’s office accused the eight men of conspiracy and assault, setting up a showcase trial that Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter E. Brown said would “basically shut down the gang.”
But after a highly publicized, eight-week trial in October and November, the jury returned no guilty verdicts. It acquitted four of the defendants of all charges and acquitted Alvarez, Caddin and Cruz of the assault charge. The jury deadlocked on whether those three were guilty of conspiracy, and the panel also hung up on whether 18-year-old Scott Kastan--the eighth defendant and the alleged gunman--was guilty of assault and conspiracy.
After declaring a mistrial, Judge Allan Steele said the case against Kastan was worth retrying and scheduled a new trial for Jan. 21. But in a rebuke to the prosecution, Steele dismissed the charges against Alvarez, Caddin and Cruz on Dec. 11, saying it was unlikely that a second jury would convict them.
Steele’s decision did not prevent the district attorney from refiling the charges. But instead of simply having a second trial, prosecutors must start over, with arraignment and a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court before trial in Superior Court.
In deciding to refile the case, prosecutors “of course considered the judge’s opinion,” Henke-Dobroth said. “But ultimately the decision rests with the D.A. We felt it was an appropriate case to refile and start over.”
She said the second trial should be simpler for the jury because there will be fewer defendants. Brown also noted that the four defendants who were acquitted can be called as witnesses for the prosecution at the second trial.
But Dammeyer, whose office represented Cruz, said prosecutors “don’t know when to quit.”
“It seems to me,” he said, “that when you’ve had your chance, you’ve marshaled your forces and put together the best prosecution case you can, and it didn’t measure up, you ought to fold your tent.”
He said the prosecutors’ decision to refile the conspiracy charge was all the more surprising because the jurors had been split 8 to 4 for acquittal. He said prosecutors had “lost their objectivity.”
The three defendants have not been rearrested, but they have agreed to appear in Municipal Court on Dec. 30, Henke-Dobroth said. Kastan remains in custody while awaiting trial for a drive-by slaying committed May 31, while he was on bail on the charges stemming from the April 27 shooting.
Meanwhile, Caddin was cited and released on a charge of battery Saturday after a confrontation between rival gangs at a Thousand Oaks service station. And one of two people injured in the brawl was Tam Nguyen, 20, of Newbury Park, who was one of the four defendants acquitted of all charges at the eight-defendant trial.
Nguyen was beaten, kicked and stabbed in the abdomen, investigators said. He was in fair condition Monday at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.
Henke-Dobroth pointed to the weekend gang brawl as justification for the district attorney’s stance on refiling the charges.
“You see these guys coming back and coming back,” she said. “We feel an obligation to protect the public as much as we can.”