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OLIVARES VERDICT REACHED TWO MEN GUILTY OF MURDER.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Two reputed Palmdale gang members were convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the Thanksgiving weekend slaying of a young woman who was gunned down as she ran screaming for help.

After deliberating about 1 1/2 days, an Antelope Valley Superior Court jury found Scott Ward, 25, and Gabriel Smutz, 26, guilty in the Nov. 30 shooting death of Brandi Olivares.

``I can only think of my daughter Brandi right now,'' said the victim's mother, Irma Olivares, after the verdicts were read. ``She was so strong. She was a happy girl. She loved her life. I know she is looking at us right now. All she wanted to do is tell what happened to her. She accomplished what she was going to do.''

As the seven-woman, five-man jury was taken out of the courtroom through a back door, Smutz's wife called from the audience, ``You're wrong.'' She yelled, ``He didn't do it,'' as she walked out of the courtroom.

Outside court, Smutz's sister, Jolene Smutz, said a witness lied that Smutz was involved to clear her nephew.

``Our court system is a joke,'' she said.

Smutz and Ward were charged with murdering Olivares so she would not report that she was gang-raped after passing out during a party at an Avenue S apartment.

The party occurred four days after Ward's release from jail following his acquittal on an assault charge.

Ward testified in court that he shot and killed the victim as she ran from his car on Barrel Springs Road, but said he meant to scare her, not kill her. He said Olivares had hit him as he drove her home from the party and he got angry, but he couldn't see her in the darkness and didn't know the blast had hit her.

He testified that Smutz stayed behind at the apartment where the party occurred, and said Olivares never said she was raped.

Authorities said Olivares was hit by two shotgun blasts.

Ward's attorney, William Clark, said he was surprised by the verdict.

``I didn't expect first(-degree murder). I thought they'd come back second because of the nature of the case. The facts don't lay out to first-degree murder,'' Clark said.

A reputed gang member has been charged with telling three jurors to vote not guilty during the trial.

Smutz and Ward each face a maximum sentence of 60 years to life in prison plus another life term when they are sentenced in November.

Ward also faces two additional life terms because he was convicted of two counts of kidnapping for carjacking in a separate, unrelated incident.

``I'm so happy for the family of Brandi Olivares,'' Deputy District Attorney Hayden Zacky said. ``The jury definitely did the right thing. They are going to make the streets of Antelope Valley a heck of lot safer.''

Investigators' re-creation of the party is that Olivares - a former Antelope Valley resident who moved to Ventura County near Ojai - was raped by three or four men after passing out. She regained consciousness after the apartment's resident started beating her.

When Olivares began screaming that she had been raped, authorities said, three men grabbed her and forced her into a car naked. They drove to Barrel Springs Road, let her dress herself and forced her out of the car.

She was shot after climbing a fence outside a home, officials said. Her shoes and purse were found near her body.

Karen Maeshiro, (661) 267-5744

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 24, 2004
Words:583
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