OFF THE WIRE
A Hell's Angels member and an associate were found not guilty Wednesday in the killing of a rival motorcycle gxxg member following four days of jury deliberation in a high-profile case involving extra security measures.
Hell's Angel Michael Pena never lost confidence in the judicial process throughout this ordeal, his attorney, Peter Kang, said after the verdict was returned. Kang said he believed from the beginning his client was innocent.
"It's obvious and very clear the jury considered all the evidence and didn't rush to judgment," Kang said.
Also found not guilty was Joseph Soto, an associate of the Hell's Angels. Soto's attorney, Henry Marquez, said his client had been a nervous wreck the past few days and was relieved when the verdict was read.
Pena and Soto were charged with crimes including murder in the stabbing death of Vagos motorcycle gxxg member Roger Anthony Violano and the wounding of Nerl Rinehart, another Vagos member. Pena had faced life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, and Soto had faced 25 years to life.
Both men were expected to be released Wednesday evening.
Kang said juries sometimes become influenced by their emotions when dealing with groups like the Hell's Angels, a name which carries a certain negative connotation for some people. In this case, he believes the jury examined the facts and found the prosecution's evidence lacking.
"They based their decision on academic and philosophical honesty," Kang said.
Marquez said the prosecution couldn't produce the weapon or blood or DNA evidence. Despite the fact someone was killed, the prosecution just didn't have the evidence to convict either his client or Pena.
"In my opinion, it was not a very well put together case," he said.
Prosecutor Nicholas Palmisano could not immediately be reached for comment, but Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, speaking on behalf of the Kern County District Attorney's office, said they're very disappointed by the verdict.
Zimmer said it was a challenging case, but they thought there was sufficient evidence to bring it to a jury. She said they respect the jury's decision.
One of the challenges prosecutors faced was getting people to talk about what happened.
"It's difficult to get people from outlaw motorcycle gxxgs to come forward and be cooperative," Zimmer said.
The stabbings happened May 30, 2010 in front of the Pirate Tattoo Shop at 1905 North Chester Ave., sheriff's deputies reported. A fight broke out between Hell's Angels and Vagos members, but there were conflicting reports as to who was responsible for starting the fight and exactly where Soto and Pena were during it.
The trial began nearly a year later, May 11, and featured a level of security not seen in most trials. Sheriff's deputies were stationed outside the courtroom and passed a handheld metal detector over each spectator before they were allowed to enter.
Also, a video camera was set up outside the courtroom facing the direction of people being screened. No one wearing gang insignia or carrying gang paraphernalia was allowed inside.