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CALIFORNIA - Mongols member convicted of second-degree murder in Gustine

A member of the Mongols biker gang could spend 15 years to life in prison after being convicted of second- degree murder Thursday in the November 2009 Gustine stabbing of Bill James.

Ruben Silva Jr., 23, of Los Angeles was found guilty after a Merced County jury of six men and six women deliberated for about two days. On the second- degree murder charge, Silva was found guilty under the theory he aided and abetted the attack on James, 33. Silva also was convicted of being a member of a criminal street gang.

The defendant showed little emotion and thanked his attorney, John Garcia, after the verdict was read. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen of Silva's friends and family members broke into tears and exchanged hugs in the courtroom.

Carol James, the victim's mother, sat in the courtroom with a downcast, weary-eyed expression.

Silva was one of as many as 10 people who entered the Gustine Club at 431 Fifth St. and killed James. Nine suspects were arrested, all of whom have taken pleas or had their cases dismissed.

The men entered the bar yelling "Mongols!" and James replied he didn't care who they were. The prosecution argued that the group killed James because they felt he disrespected them.

Deputy District Attorney David Elgin, the prosecutor in the case, said Silva and his friends were looking to provoke a response when they entered the bar yelling their gang's name. Four witnesses identified Silva as a participant in the attack, and two said he was carrying a knife.

Two of the knives used in the attack were logged as evidence. Elgin said three or more knives may have been used by the gang.

Complex, multilayered case

Elgin said he has a "great deal of respect" for the jury, which sifted through a complex, multilayered case. "I can't commend them enough," Elgin said. "I believe justice was served today."

Garcia remained in the courthouse hallway after the hearing, trying to console his client's mother, Lorena Witt, and other family members. Many of Silva's supporters thought the case lacked physical evidence. For example, Silva's DNA wasn't present on either of the knives found by sheriff's detectives.

Still, while Garcia maintained his client was innocent of participating in the actual attack, the fact he was at the scene probably resonated with the jury. "I think the aiding and abetting factor made it difficult to separate him from the conduct of others," Garcia said.

Silva drove a gray GMC pickup away from the scene, and James' blood was found on the inside of the passenger-side door, the back seat and other places inside the vehicle. Silva had borrowed the pickup from someone in Southern California before driving to Gustine.

After the fight continued outside the bar, witnesses saw the defendant's GMC and James fighting with an unidentified person near the vehicle's passenger seat.

Defendants Richard Naudin, Mark Oseguera and Brandon Carvalho pleaded no contest earlier this year to voluntary manslaughter charges and were sentenced to terms ranging from three to eight years in prison. Albert Aleman pleaded no contest to felony accessory after the fact and misdemeanor participation in a criminal street gang. He'll be sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

Silva is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Ronald Hansen on Dec. 9.

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