An Orange County gangster convicted in 2008 on attempted murder charges stemming from a jailhouse stabbing of a rival hoodlum and received a punishment of life in prison almost had reason to smile this week.
Following orders from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a U.S. District Court judge, who'd previously upheld every portion of the case against Manos gang member Ramiro Alex Huerta, reluctantly erased a street terrorism conviction tied to the jail stabbing.
Judges M. Margaret McKeown, Ronald M. Gould and Jay S. Bybee determined that both a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana as well as U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner acted "unreasonably" by misinterpreting "clearly established" law by upholding an invalid street terrorism conviction.
In 2007, La Habra's Huerta and Carlos Luna, a member of the Stanton-based Crow Village gang, stabbed and pummeled fellow inmate Jose Garcia, who belongs to the F-Troop gang in Santa Ana, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies.
Both Huerta and Luna were convicted in the case, though Garcia wrote a letter to Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly and alleged that deputies had fingered the wrong men.
State appellate judges as well as Klausner upheld the righteousness of the attempted murder count, but the Ninth Circuit panel agreed with Huerta that the only way to have a legitimate street terrorism conviction in the matter would have been if Luna had belonged to the same gang.
(The Ninth Circuit panel did, however, decline Huerta's invitation to dismiss the gang enhancement or to support a claim that his criminal defense lawyer rendered ineffective counsel during the trial.)
To comply with the superior legal body, Klausner formally dismissed the street terrorism conviction, but it won't mean much.
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Kelly, the trial judge, didn't use that count to add to Huerta's life plus two-year punishment.
The 39-year-old Huerta (a.k.a "Oso") will continue to serve his sentence inside Kern Valley State Prison.