Two transients were sentenced Friday to life in prison for their part in the beating and fatal stabbing of a fellow homeless man in Santa Ana two years ago.
Daniel Rubin Gallegos, 49, was convicted in July 2021 of first-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon, and co-defendant Gustavo Nunez Jr., 34, was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.
Gallegos was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison, and Nunez was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Co-defendant Lisa Marie Herrera, 43, is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon and will be tried at a later date.
The three were charged in connection with the March 21, 2020, attack on 39-year-old Cesar Gamaliel Gonzalez near the entrance to Santiago Park.
Gallegos, Nunez, Herrera, and Gonzalez were part of a group of transients who were squatters at a shuttered bank building at 2525 N. Main St. in Santa Ana, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said.
“Saturday, March 21, 2020 — the world was a changing place,” Birney said in his opening statement of the trial, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot was happening in the world … At 8:22 p.m. that night there was a 911 call at North Main Street near the entrance of Santiago Park.”
When officers arrived they found Gonzalez, who pointed to the abandoned office building and said his attackers had fled there, Birney said. He also said, “I didn’t rape nobody,” according to Birney.
Gonzalez was stabbed six times and had numerous lacerations to his face, Birney said.
Police had difficulty getting any of the transients squatting in the nearby building to share any information they might have had about the attack, because “there is a code on the streets” to not snitch, Birney said.
The officers, however, got a sense that one transient — Jose Loera — was willing to talk so they arranged to meet with him later, Birney said. Loera is the chief witness for the prosecution and will take the stand Thursday.
Loera ended up on the streets six years ago after his wife died, Birney said. He was friends with Gonzalez and defended him when fellow transients said he had been arrested for rape, Birney said.
Loera said his friend had been taken into custody on a probation violation and that if he had been charged with rape he would still be behind bars, according to Birney.
“Defendant Gallegos thinks he’s a rapist and so does Pebbles,” Birney said, referring to Herrera’s nickname. Gallegos was known as “Gorby” because of a birthmark on his balding face like the former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Loera told police he overheard Gallegos and Herrera talking on speakerphone about the location of Gonzalez and Herrera told him to attack the victim, Birney said.
Gallegos and Nunez picked up some metal tubes on the building and went looking for Gonzalez, Birney said. Loera followed, hoping to calm them down, Birney said.
When defendants found Gonzalez they chased after him and beat him with the pipes, Birney said. When Gonzalez cried, “enough,” Nunez stopped, but Gallegos continued and stabbed the victim, Birney said.
Gallegos was known to “commonly carry a Rambo-style knife in a sheath,” Birney said. Police never recovered the murder weapon or the pipes used in the attack, Birney said.
Roger Sheaks, who represents Gallegos, said the 911 caller reported 10 people attacked Gonzalez.
Loera “will try to portray himself as a peacemaker,” Sheaks said in his opening statement. However, Loera was “someone who was surfing his way through the streets,” and “all of the evidence in this case comes from him,” Sheaks said.
“He’s making up a large portion of his testimony,” Sheaks said. “He’s getting a benefit from this.”
Loera was supposed to get Gallegos’ belongings if something went wrong in the confrontation with Gonzalez, Sheaks said.
“He has made numerous inconsistent statements” about the attack, Sheaks said.
Loera managed one wing of the building where the transients were squatting and Gallegos managed another wing and the two did not like each other, Sheaks said.
Renee Garcia, who represents Nunez, said police did not interview the 911 caller.
“Why didn’t they interview the 911 caller?” she asked.
Garcia said her client was inside the building when the attack on Gonzalez happened.
“The police just went with what Mr. Loera said that day,” Garcia said. “They chose not to interview a lot of people. Why? Mr. Loera is biased and he has motive to lie.”