A judge on Thursday ordered that a criminal grand jury transcript remain sealed at least until next month in the case of seven men indicted in the shooting deaths of three people last year inside a southeast Modesto home.
Ricky Javier Madrigal, Robert Palomino, Juan Jose Nila, Armando Osegueda, Jose Osegueda Jr., Richard Tyrone Garcia and Joseph Luis Jauriqui have been charged with three counts of premeditated murder, first-degree burglary and participating in a criminal street gang.
They're accused of participating in the March 3, 2012, killings of 16-year-old David Siebels, 19-year-old Alyxandria Tellez and 31-year-old Edward Joseph Reinig inside a home on McClure Road across from Creekside Golf Course.
The defendants appeared in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon, but none entered a plea. Their attorneys asked the judge to postpone the hearing, as some of the attorneys had not received a copy of the indictment.
Never miss a local story.
Instead, the defense attorneys and the prosecutors spent about 40 minutes arguing over a variety of issues, including the grand jury transcript. The hearing was contentious. The court reporter stopped the attorneys a few times, asking them to speak one at a time so she could record their statements.
Criminal grand jury proceedings, in which witnesses testify and prosecutors seek an indictment, are held behind closed doors, without defense attorneys present. In this case, the grand jurors heard the sole survivor of the shooting and 20 other witnesses testify for a week in mid-December.
The defense attorneys asked the judge to order court officials to hand over copies of the transcripts as soon as possible so they can proceed with the case.
Court officials made assurances to the defense attorneys that they would make copies of the transcripts available to them as soon as possible. The prosecutor, however, asked the judge to keep the documents sealed from public view.
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued that revealing information in the transcripts could prevent the defendants from receiving a fair trial. She acknowledged that her argument is one usually made by defense attorneys seeking to keep grand jury transcripts sealed.
Judge Ricardo Córdova ordered the documents to remain sealed until the defendants return April 4 for their postponed arraignment hearing. Judge Judge Scott Steffen, who has been assigned to the case, will have the opportunity to hear arguments over the transcript issue and later determine whether the documents will remain sealed.
Córdova ordered that the defendants and defense investigators are not allowed to reveal to anyone else information from the grand jury transcript until the court makes a ruling on the issue.
Ferreira told the judge the voluminous transcript is more than 1,300 pages long, so the court should allow the defense attorneys enough time to read the documents.
"This is a very serious matter, this is a death penalty case," the prosecutor told the judge. At that point, she was interrupted by defense attorneys asking whether the district attorney's office has made a decision on the maximum penalty for the alleged crimes.
Mary Lynn Belsher, Madrigal's defense attorney, asked twice whether the prosecution was seeking the death penalty specifically against her client. Tai Bogan, Armando Osegueda's defense attorney, told the judge he needs to know soon. Bogan said he will need another attorney because he is not qualified to be a lead counsel on a death penalty case.
Ferreira responded by saying the case is eligible for the death penalty but the district attorney has not made a final decision. She also said prosecutors need to discuss this issue with the victims' families, so "it should be considered a death penalty case until further notice."
The defendants face enhancements, alleging they used a gun and committed the crime for the benefit of a street gang. They face special circumstances in connection with a multiple murder committed during a burglary, and being considered active participants in a criminal street gang. Authorities have said the men are known Norteños.
The slayings, officials have said, are connected to the alleged torture of a 19-year-old woman about a month before the murders. That woman later was the only survivor in the attack inside the McClure Road home.
Garcia and Armando Osegueda have been charged in the indictment with torture, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment. Garcia also is charged with spousal abuse and enhancements of inflicting great bodily injury, using a knife and a gun and committing the crimes while out on bail.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.