Noe Chang Sr. leaned against the wooden railing and began crying loudly along with his wife as two of their sons walked out of a SLO County courtroom in handcuffs Sept. 1.
Brothers Noe Chang Leon Jr., 24, and Javier Chang, 20, were led away from their sobbing parents after a jury found them both guilty of multiple felony assault charges in the severe beating of an Allan Hancock College student in Nipomo last year.
A third Nipomo man who was on trial along with the brothers, Francisco Mendoza, was cleared of all charges by the jury.
In a trial that lasted a little more than 10 days, SLO County Prosecutor Greg Devitt argued that the two brothers, along with Mendoza and Federico Lazaro, attacked the 24-year-old student with fists, feet, and beer bottles during a violent confrontation on South Oakglen Avenue. In addition to the assault charges, the jury also found Leon guilty of threatening the victim when he attempted to call police during the incident.
The assault occurred after Chang poured a bottle of beer on the victim’s car. The victim then pulled over, got out, and had a verbal exchange with Chang before he was attacked. Leon took the stand in his own defense and claimed that he’d been drinking vodka and smoking marijuana and methamphetamine before the confrontation but that he only participated in the assault because he believed the victim was attacking Chang.
“I was concerned for my brother,” Leon said during his testimony.
Mendoza’s lawyer argued that he never participated in the assault, but was swept up and arrested with the other defendants when they returned to the scene of the crime and the victim misidentified him. After the jury found Mendoza not guilty, Judge John Trice credited the verdict to the testimony of Mendoza’s mother.
“Your mother and your lawyer have obviously saved your life,” Trice told Mendoza before dismissing him.
Leon and Chang were slated to begin a second phase of the trial to determine whether the assault was gang related. In California, if prosecutors can prove a crime is gang-related, additional years can be tacked onto the sentence. However, on Sept. 6, the second phase of the trial was canceled.
Devitt told New Times that both Chang and Leon pleaded guilty to the gang enhancement charges. Their sentencing is scheduled for October. With the gang enhancements, Chang faces up to 10 years in prison and Leon faces up to 12.
Lazaro is at large after jumping bail. The court has issued a warrant for his arrest.