DOWNTOWN L.A. — Family members of Michael and Anthony Juarez, brothers who were brutally shot and killed more than a decade ago while visiting a cousin’s clothing store in Santa Monica, will have a chance next month to confront one of two gang members found guilty of the murders.

Jessie Garcia is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on June 13 in a Downtown Los Angeles courtroom. His cousin, David Robles, was sentenced to life without parole in May. The two were convicted in April on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the deadly shooting at the Westside Clothing store on Oct. 27, 1998.

Prosecutors argued that Garcia and Robles helped carry out the murders on behalf of the Mexican mafia, which was out to settle a dispute over drugs and money. Robles acted as the getaway driver while Garcia and two other men, who have not been identified, walked into the store and opened fire. The Juarez brothers, who were visiting from out of town, were hit several times, along with two other men who survived that attack. Detectives said the intended target of the attack was not at the store at the time of the shooting and that the Juarez brothers had no ties to gangs.

DNA evidence, along with eyewitness testimony, helped identify Robles and Garcia, police said.

Garcia was originally supposed to be sentenced on May 20, however, his defense attorney called in sick the day before, forcing the hearing to be postponed.

Members of the Juarez family were outraged, saying the delay in sentencing was another blow to them emotionally and financially. Bill Juarez, the father, and Ginger Blackstone, mother of Anthony Juarez, had to take time off work and drive several hundred miles to attend the hearing, only to find out that it was postponed.

On top of that, Blackstone said the two had to recently bury their daughter, who they said fell into a deep depression following her brothers’ murder and committed suicide.

“I’m mad,” Bill Juarez said the day the hearing was supposed to take place. “We’ve had to deal with this for 12 and a half years.”

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that prosecutors notified the lead detective, who had contact with the Juarez family, as soon as they were made aware that the defense attorney called in sick, which was late in the afternoon on May 19. Prosecutors also put on the court record the day of the conviction that if there was any change in the sentencing date that the prosecutors be notified in advance so that they could send word to the family.

Blackstone said she received a phone call from the detective but she was already in the Los Angeles area. She and Bill Juarez said they are frustrated with how slow the wheels of the justice system turn. The family has already had to endure a mistrial.

While she knows the sentencing hearing will be emotionally challenging, Blackstone said she is looking forward to confronting Garcia in court. She wants Garcia to know, just like Robles, how much he has taken from her and her family.

“We have been fighting for justice since this happened and we will continue to fight for our sons, no matter what,” she said.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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