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Man convicted in Mexican cartel murder

Judge declares mistrial for co-defendant

VICTORVILLE • A 23-year-old man is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole after he was convicted Wednesday of murdering two rival members in a Mexican drug cartel.

After deliberating for about three days, a jury found Sabas Iniguez guilty of the first-degree murders of Aljandro Martin and Eduardo Gomez to benefit a gang. The jurors also convicted him of the attempted murder of Luis Romero and kidnapping the three victims for ransom and robbery.

But soon after Iniguez’s verdict, Judge John Tomberlin had to declare a mistrial for co-defendant Jose Luis Perez because a separate jury couldn’t reach a unanimous decision after six days of deliberations.

The crime was a result of “cartel politics,” prosecutor Britt Imes said. The assailants and the victims were rivals in the Sinaloa Cartel, trafficking marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States. One of the assailants owed money to the cartel and needed money, according to the prosecution.

The victims were bound and blindfolded at a South Gate duplex in June 2009, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s officials. Assailants kept them hostage for two days and robbed them of money and drugs.

The victims were then driven to Victorville, where they were shot multiple times in the back seat of Gomez’s truck. Martin and Gomez died, but Romero survived despite getting shot in the forehead, nose and chest.

Romero told investigators he pretended to be dead before using his own blood to slip out of plastic ties. He walked to Highway 395 near Eucalyptus Road, where he was spotted by passers-by.

Romero didn’t testify in the trial because he couldn’t be found, according to the prosecution.

It took the court clerk about 20 minutes Wednesday morning to read Iniguez’s 44-page verdict form. Iniguez was charged with a total of 43 felony counts and allegations. He was convicted of all the counts but the jury found seven of the allegations not true. Iniguez was ordered to return to Victorville court on Feb. 8 for sentencing.

Then the judge received a note from Perez’s jury foreman that they were “unable to reach a unanimous decision on any count.”

Defense attorney David Sanders argued Perez was simply following orders because he was scared for his life. The cartel has such a strict vertical structure that his client had no idea what the plan was, Sanders said.

After discussing with the attorneys, the judge brought Perez’s jury into the courtroom. Each juror said additional time or assistance wouldn’t help them reach a verdict.

Tomberlin then declared a mistrial, prompting a 24-year-old Perez to smile and look back at his female family members, who were breaking down in tears.

Imes requested an immediate retrial, but Sanders asked for some time to review the transcript. The judge ordered Perez to return to court on Jan. 18 for a pre-trial hearing.

Some of Perez’s jurors talked about their deliberations with the Daily Press and attorneys in the court hallway. They said they were split 11-1 in favor of guilty on most counts. They said one female juror was adamant that she couldn’t convict Perez on circumstantial evidence.

“I think one of the problems was it was overcharged and too complicated,” Sanders said. “I think the District Attorney’s office would be better off simplifying the charges. They made it so complicated for the jurors.”

“From the comments of the jurors, I thought that was not the issue,” Imes said. “We’ll take another shot at it.”

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