A judge on Tuesday said some evidence used to obtain an indictment in a Modesto triple-homicide case might not be admissible at trial.
The judge raised his concerns about the evidence while trying to determine whether to grant or reject a defense motion seeking to dismiss charges against Ricky Javier Madrigal.
The defendant is one of seven men indicted on murder charges in the shooting deaths of 16-year-old David Siebels, 19-year-old Alyxandria Tellez and 31-year-old Edward Joseph Reinig. They were killed March 3, 2012, inside a home on McClure Road, across from Creekside Golf Course in east Modesto.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff told the attorneys he read the defense motion and the prosecution’s response, as well as the 1,300-page transcript of the criminal grand jury proceeding.
“I have some concerns about the evidence provided to the grand jury,” the judge said. “Clearly, some evidence would not be admissible at the time of trial.”
Zeff said there was testimony from witnesses and questions by the prosecution that the court can potentially determine to be hearsay, irrelevant, argumentative, leading and unqualified evidence.
“There are a number of things in there (the grand jury transcript) that are potentially objectionable,” the judge told the attorneys.
He said the fact that this evidence was presented to the grand jury without the defendant or his attorney makes it difficult for the court to determine what is admissible at trial.
“This grand jury indictment procedure is an interesting one,” the judge said while voicing his concerns about presenting potentially inadmissible evidence without offering a defense attorney an opportunity to object.
Criminal grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors, and witnesses testify without the defendants or their attorneys present. Defense lawyers are allowed to provide prosecutors with exculpatory evidence to pass on to the grand jury.
Judge Scott Steffen, at the request of the defense and the prosecution, has ordered the grand jury transcript to remain sealed from the public until after a Demurrer hearing, when the defense attorneys have a chance to challenge the indictment. Steffen has scheduled all seven defendants to return to his courtroom Nov. 18 to resume the Demurrer hearing.
Zeff’s review of the case was focused on testimony that applies to Madrigal alone; not the other six defendants. He said some of the evidence to the grand jury might be admissible at trial if the prosecutor convinces the court that she will introduce the evidence in an alternate but appropriate manner.
However, the judge said he can’t guess what was on the mind of the prosecutor at the time the questions were asked in front of the grand jury. Zeff initially asked the attorneys to submit written arguments with more specific details supporting their positions, so he can look at each piece of evidence against Madrigal and determine whether it’s admissible.
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira said she would be happy to review all of the evidence and provide the court what it needed to make a ruling, but she wasn’t entirely sure what evidence the judge had concerns with. The prosecutor said there were multiple phone calls and text messages presented as evidence.
Mary Lynn Belsher, Madrigal’s defense attorney, told the judge she thought her filed motion did offer specific details that would convince to the court dismiss charges against her client. “My client’s life is at stake,” Belsher said in court.
Zeff said it didn’t sound like either attorney was interested in his offer to produce more specific arguments, so he said he will review the case again and make a ruling Nov. 12. The prosecutor again offered to submit what the court wanted, but the judge declined.
“The court’s going to make up its own mind,” Zeff told the attorneys. “I’m not receiving any further documents from either side.”
The criminal grand jury in December indicted Madrigal, Richard Tyrone Garcia, Armando Osegueda, Joseph Luis Jauriqui, Robert Palomino, Juan Jose Nila and Jose Osegueda Jr.
The defendants have been charged with three counts of premeditated murder, first-degree burglary and participating in a criminal street gang. The prosecution says the defendants are known Norteños.
The slayings, authorities have said, are connected to the torture of a 19-year-old woman about a month before the murders. That woman later was the only survivor in the attack in the McClure Road home.
The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office has decided to seek the death penalty against Garcia, Armando Osegueda and Jauriqui. If convicted, the four other defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
Madrigal faces a murder charge in another case. Madrigal, Carlos Jesus Soriano and Jonathon Vasquez are accused of first-degree murder and shooting at an occupied home in the Dec. 23, 2011 shooting death of Luis Castaneda.
Prosecutors filed the criminal complaint in Castaneda’s death Aug. 9. The defendants’ arraignment hearing has been postponed until Nov. 15. The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants committed the crime for the benefit of the Norteño street gang.
A fourth defendant in the Castaneda murder case, Mauricio Sanchez, already has pleaded no contest to a charge of being an accessory. A charge of shooting at an occupied home has been dismissed. Sanchez’s sentencing hearing is scheduled Nov. 13.
Castaneda, 30, was shot about 10:20 p.m. at a home in the 1400 block of Fara Biundo Drive, just south of Briggsmore Avenue in east Modesto. Police officials have said a person, dressed in black, walked up to a group gathered at the home and fired multiple gunshots.
It appeared at the time that Castaneda was the only one among the group that was critically injured. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he later died.