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Thousands of potential jurors being summoned to Santa Maria Fairpark ahead of MS-13 trial

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Posted at 9:42 AM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 13:08:35-04

Jury selection begins Monday in Santa Maria for the murder trial involving multiple MS-13 gang members.

Many of the arrests happened in 2016 following several homicides in Santa Maria in the years prior.

The Santa Maria Police Department worked together with multiple law enforcement agencies and close to 150 officers in what was dubbed "Operation Matador.”

Several warrants were served at 12 locations including Santa Maria, Bakersfield, Oxnard, and even Columbus, Ohio, and on March 7, 2016, Operation Matador led to the confiscation of several firearms and the arrests of 16​ people said to be involved with MS-13.

Another 40 people were also detained in the raids and were handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

By 2019, out of the 15 who were arrested, only 10 remained. They were charged with more than a dozen counts each ranging from murder to conspiracy and street gang enhancements in connection with multiple murders that took place in Santa Maria between 2013 and 2016.

The trial was set to begin in March 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

With the first trial expected to get underway in October 2021, thousands of people are now being summoned for what will be a lengthy case.

Four hundred potential jurors are expected to appear at the Santa Maria Fairpark each day into September.

Due to the size, the defendants are being split up with five in the first trial and the other five in the second.

Jury selection begins Monday for both cases. Santa Barbara County's Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen says that process could take a few months.

Santa Maria attorney Michael Scott says for this case, in particular, the jury selection will more than likely be the most difficult part.

"One of the unique challenges for the court and the lawyers are going to be finding jurors who can sit for a year.. most folks can't afford to take a year off of their life," Scott said.

He adds a lengthy trial means there would also need to be more alternate jurors than normal.

On top of that, pandemic factors can also arise such as masking and possible illness during trial causing jurors to be absent.

"It's not a question about whether they know anything about the case or know any of the witnesses or formed any opinions, the question put to them will be can you sit for one year?"

Bramsen says the Fairpark was selected due to its size. Once a panel of jurors who could serve in the case has been selected, further questioning will take place at the Santa Maria courthouse.

"Once they start the evidence it should go fairly smoothly, although long, but the biggest challenge is going to be finding people who can sit that long," Scott said.

An exact date for opening statements for the first trial has not been set but will take place once jury selection is complete.