SANTA CRUZ — A Watsonville man already facing murder charges – and who has twice been charged with operating an illegal marijuana dispensary out of his home – appeared in court Monday, where a judge refused a prosecutor’s request to increase his $100,000 bail.
But Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Steven Siegel did impose several bail conditions for 27-year-old Eli Gutierrez, including that he cannot possess firearms or marijuana.
Gutierrez and his father Elias Gutierrez, 47, were in court to face charges that they continued to conduct illegal marijuana sales out of their Lawrence Street residence, even after a violent incident involving drugs and weapons.
In July 2018, two armed men entered the Gutierrez residence to steal money and marijuana, police say. Both Eli and Elias reportedly opened fire as the robbers ran from the residence. One of the suspected burglars, 32-year-old Dominic Quintana, died at the scene after being shot with Eli Gutierrez’s AR-15 rifle.
Eli Gutierrez was arrested on murder charges in December 2018, and was released after posting $1 million bail.
Elias Gutierrez returns to court for further arraignment on Wednesday after Siegel gave him time to hire an attorney.
Eli Gutierrez returns to court on Friday, where he may enter a plea to the new charges, which include allegations that he purchased two new guns after he was charged with murder and operating the illegal dispensary.
But his attorney Eugene Martinez also hinted that he might file a demurrer, which is an argument that there is no legal basis for charges, even if the allegations are true.
Martinez told Siegel that Eli Gutierrez legally purchased the guns to defend his home, which he said has been the target of gang retaliation and death threats.
“The people have tortured the facts to say that my client is somehow a danger to the public,” he said. “To disarm them when there is no reason to do so is dangerous to them.”
But Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Celia Rowland said that Eli Gutierrez bought the guns to defend an illegal dispensary. She also pointed out that when he shot at Ledesma, several houses across the street were in the line of fire.
“All of those people were at risk when he fired across the street,” Rowland said.
Outside court, Rowland said that she was pleased with the requirement that Eli Gutierrez not possess any firearms. But she disagreed with the judge about not increasing his bail.
“The people are disappointed with the court’s ruling that committing new crimes while murder charges are pending was not the basis for an increase in bail,” Rowland said.
The Bureau of Cannabis Control earlier this year mailed Eli Gutierrez a formal letter telling him to stop illegal marijuana sales.
The father and son were arrested on Thursday after police seized an estimated $200,000 worth of illegal marijuana plants and products, Watsonville Police spokeswoman Michelle Pulido said.
Police believe that both Gutierrez men were delivering and selling drugs in the community.
WPD officers served a high-risk search warrant at the residence on Aug. 9, following numerous complaints from residents about drug sales.
Investigators seized nearly 100 illegal marijuana plants and dozens of marijuana products such as edibles, joints and vape pens, Pulido said.
The pair is also facing charges out of Monterey County after deputies there found an illegal marijuana grow belonging to them, Pulido said.