DOWNTOWN L.A. — A pair of imprisoned gang members has been found guilty of murdering two brothers who were gunned down more than a decade ago while visiting their cousin’s clothing store on Lincoln Boulevard.

The verdict was read Tuesday in the murder trial of David Robles and Jessie Garcia, cousins affiliated with local street gangs and the Mexican mafia who law enforcement officials said were out to settle a dispute over drugs and money when they and two other suspects drove to the Westside Clothing store on Oct. 27, 1998 and shot and killed Michael Juarez, 27, and Anthony Juarez, 19, and wounded two others.

The shooting raised alarm in Santa Monica because of the extreme nature of the crime. The Juarez brothers, who were visiting from out of town, and the two who were wounded were described by police as innocent victims who had no ties to gangs.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Francisco Juarez, the victims’ uncle. “Justice has finally been served and now we’re hoping this brings some closure.”

The defendants were convicted on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Robles is scheduled to be sentenced on May 3. Garcia is expected to return to court on May 19. Both could receive life in prison.

For Ginger Blackstone, the mother of Anthony Juarez, the verdict was welcomed but it has done little to ease the family’s pain. She and her ex-husband, Bill Juarez, Anthony and Michael’s father, recently had to bury their daughter, who they said fell into a deep depression following her brothers’ murder and committed suicide.

The family also had to endure a mistrial in 2009 when a jury failed to reach a verdict.

“We were extremely frustrated [after the first trial], but we are so grateful this time around,” she said. “We thought the prosecution did an excellent job. It was tough to sit through it again and see those crime scene and autopsy photos. And even though I’m still dying inside at least we were able to get justice for our boys, something we’ve been fighting for for years.”

Fighting through tears, Bill Juarez said he was extremely grateful for the work of Santa Monica detectives as well as the kindness and support given to the family from various sources over the past 11 years.

SMPD Detective Michael Bambrick, who took over the case in December 2004 after the previous lead detective retired, said eye witness testimony along with DNA evidence collected from a ski mask left at the scene of the murders were key pieces in the prosecution’s case the second time around.

He said police initially believed the murders were in retaliation for an earlier shooting involving a gang member, however, further investigation led detectives to believe a dispute over drugs and money fueled the hit. The suspected target was not at the clothing store the day of the shooting, Bambrick said.

“It could have been they were trying to send a message,” he said of the shooters.

Three men wearing masks entered the clothing store shortly before noon, opened fire and ran out. Bambrick said Robles acted as the getaway driver and was positively identified by witnesses. Garcia dropped his mask in the store and was also identified by witnesses.

Using DNA evidence collected from the mask, Bambrick said detectives were able to link Garcia and Robles, who were roommates at the time, to the crime scene. The two other shooters were never identified. Bambrick continues to investigate in hopes of locating the suspects.

“We’re still working it, but there’s not a ton of information out there,” he said, urging anyone who may have knowledge about the shooting to come forward.

As for the Juarez family, Blackstone said she is looking forward to sentencing when she will be able to speak directly to the defendants and tell them how their actions have hurt the family. She hopes Robles and Garcia spend the rest of their lives behind bars so they suffer for their crimes.

At the time that murder charges were filed, Robles, also known as “Puppet,” was serving an eight-year sentence in Corcoran State Prison. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in February 2001. Garcia, also known as “Psycho,” was convicted of carjacking and assault with a deadly weapon with a firearm causing great bodily injury in May 1999. He was serving a 15-year sentence.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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