Fifteen defendants, including five juveniles, pleaded not guilty Friday to capital murder charges in the beating and fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old gang member in Canyon Country.
Authorities believe two 19-year-old defendants, Samuel Herr and Esteban Alonso, lured their friend Byron Benito to a deserted business park on Jan. 16, saying they wanted to smoke marijuana with him.
But when they arrived, Benito was attacked by more than a dozen gang members, all from the Santa Clarita Valley, who were allegedly seeking revenge for a killing hours earlier, Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. James Garrison said.
Benito was beaten with fists and crowbars and stabbed 33 times, the prosecutor said. He died of a stab wound to the lung, the coroner said.
Garrison said the gang members gathered in an apartment earlier that day to grieve over the death of their friend Victor Flores, 19. There they began talking of revenge and plotted how to get Benito into position to kill him.
There is no evidence linking Benito to the fatal shooting of Flores, Garrison said.
He believes the gang members selected Benito as their target because “they viewed him as an enemy.”
In addition to the 15 defendants arraigned Friday, two 18-year-olds are awaiting fitness hearings in Juvenile Court, Garrison said. And an arrest warrant was issued for Adam Rodriguez, 23, a fugitive also charged in the slaying.
“It was 18 to 1,” Garrison said, describing a chaotic fight scene in a vacant parking lot off Sierra Highway.
Three defendants, including Katherine Henson, 21, the only woman involved, also were stabbed in the fight.
Jorge Manrique, 19, was accidentally stabbed six times in the back, allegedly by co-defendant Mario Aguillon, 15, who also suffered stab wounds, Garrison said.
All of the defendants, including Rodriguez, have been charged with murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait and conspiracy to commit murder.
Prosecutors have not yet determined whether they will seek the death penalty against the adult defendants.
Under state law, the juveniles who will be tried as adults are ineligible for the death penalty but could face life in prison without parole.
All of the defendants, except Rodriguez, were in custody awaiting trial. Garrison said they are all gang members except Herr and Alonso.
The other defendants are John Jimenez, 15; Daniel Carrillo, Jose Jimenez and Alberto Mondragon, all 18; John Perez Romero, Jose De Jesus Rodriguez, Robert Moreno and Tony Villasenor, all 20; Randy Franco, 21; and Alfredo Hernandez, 22.