A state court has upheld the perjury conviction of a man who testified before the San Mateo County Criminal Grand Jury in the “Sunny Day” criminal cases that included the killing of a gang member who was a police informant.
Joel Santana appealed his perjury conviction in San Mateo County Superior Court to the state First Appellate District, which in its Tuesday ruling upheld Santana’s conviction.
Al Serrato, chief deputy district attorney for the county, welcomed the state court ruling.
“The case demonstrates that witnesses who commit perjury in criminal cases can and will face appropriate consequences,” Serrato said.
Sunny Day prosecutions involving cases from shootings in 2012-13 involving the Sac Street, DaVill and Taliban gangs in East Palo Alto, the state court said.
Lamont Coleman, 21, a member of the Sac Street gang, was found dead Jan. 26, 2013, in East Palo Alto from apparent gunshot wounds to his back, the appellate court said.
Santana lived two houses down from the crime scene and several cellphone calls had been placed between Santana and the person suspected of committing the Coleman murder, according to the state court.
In its ruling Tuesday, the state court recounted that Santana said during his Superior Court trial for perjury that he told the truth when testifying before the grand jury that he did not know or speak by cellphone with the man suspected of killing Coleman.
Santana testified during the Superior Court trial that he was into music and video production as well as graphic design, the state court said. He deactivated his Facebook account, which had more than 3,000 friends who followed his posts about the entertainment business, after his grand jury testimony because he “felt violated,” according to the state court.
Santana said he did not consider himself an associate of any gang.
Jurors in the Superior Court case found Santa guilty of perjury in 2017. He was sentenced to 60 days in county jail and placed on three years probation. His appeal to the state court followed.
Santana contended jurors likely viewed Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya, who testified in the Superior Court perjury trial, as an expert witness, the state court said. But the appellate judges concluded in their ruling that the Superior Court jurors were aware Maya was not an expert witness.
Moreover, Santana’s claim that he did not know the suspect in Coleman’s murder and never spoke with him strains credulity, the state court said.
Maya testified he believed much of Santana’s grand jury testimony had been untruthful, the state court said.
Santana’s refusal to testify truthfully about his contacts with the murder suspect harmed the Coleman murder investigation because the homicide was “the product of a very carefully planned conspiracy,” Maya testified.
Jamie Draper, an inspector with the District Attorney’s Office who was involved in the Coleman murder investigation, listened to thousands of hours of recorded phone calls made to gang members incarcerated in the San Mateo County Jail. Draper said Santana was an associate of the Norteño gang of East Palo Alto, according to the state court.
Draper testified about a recorded Jan. 17, 2013, phone call to the county jail between two gang members that Draper said involved plans to kill Coleman because he was an informant.
“You want me to make that happen?” one gang member asked. He was told, “Yes, blood like man.”
During a call 10 days later, a gang member said, “I like these cold nights, sunny days.”
Draper testified that the reference to nights was Coleman dying and “sunny days” meant the future now that Coleman was dead.
Attorney Jennifer Ann Mannix, listed in the state appellate court website as representing Santana in his appeal, could not be reached Wednesday for comment about the ruling turning down the appeal.
Sunny Day cases included three gang members sentenced in the murders of three people. Indictments in the cases involved 16 people with charges ranging from first degree murder and drug trafficking to robbery and conspiracy.
The crimes began when the Da Vill and Sac Street gangs of East Palo Alto teamed up against the Taliban gang of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, according to law enforcement. The resulting conflict included murders in East Palo Alto and San Francisco, a highway shooting in Belmont, a robbery, witness dissuasion, drug trafficking, bribery, firearms possession and conspiracy, according to law enforcement.
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