Jury: Teen guilty of murder for fatal stabbing at Santa Cruz motel

SANTA CRUZ – Jurors found a teenager guilty of second-degree murder Thursday for fatally stabbing another teen during a party in a Beach Hill motel room in October 2008.

Jonathan Cardenas, 18, will serve a sentence of 16 years to life in prison for killing Robbie Reynolds, also 18, during an argument.

“This was an appropriate verdict based on the evidence,” said assistant district attorney Celia Rowland, who prosecuted the case. “The defendant stabbed Robbie in a vulnerable location without any regard to the fact it was a lethal thing to do and killed Robbie.”

Cardenas and Reynolds fought at 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2008, at Paradise Inn on Second Street, where eight teens had been drinking and smoking marijuana. Reynolds struck a 14-year-old girl who suspected he stole money from her purse. She was yelling and cursing at Reynolds, then Cardenas struck at him.

Cardenas and two of his friends fought Reynolds, and Cardenas stabbed the teenager once in the side. Reynolds, who grew up in Davenport and lived in Santa Cruz with his mother, died a few hours later at Dominican Hospital.

Cardenas turned himself in at Juvenile Hall about 36 hours after the fight.  Defense attorney Art Dudley said the stabbing was in self-defense and that Cardenas had been provoked.  “The defense is extremely disappointed with the verdict,” Dudley said. “All along it was our belief this case was – at worse-case scenario – voluntary manslaughter.”

Rowland argued the murder had gang overtones. Although no gang charges were filed against Cardenas, she said he has ties to a Salinas gang and got gang tattoos while in County Jail. A Santa Cruz police gang expert testified during the trial, which lasted more than three weeks.

“This was not a typical gang murder but what it absolutely demonstrated is the danger of the gang mentality, which is the willingness and just the sense of appropriateness of stabbing somebody if that person disrespects you,” Rowland said. “Unfortunately, gang members act that way whether they’re with other gang members or not.”

Dudley disputed the relevancy of his client’s alleged gang ties and said gang-related evidence should have been banned from the trial.  “There will be a significant motion for a new trial,” Dudley said.

Cardenas will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Aug. 4. He remains in County Jail.

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