After nearly 12 hours of arguments, cross-examinations, and legal bantering, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled on Jan. 15 that the bulk of a case accusing five Cal Poly student athletes of an August 2014 armed robbery can proceed to trial.
In an important caveat, Judge Donald G. Umhofer ruled that two of the defendants—Kristaan Ivory and Jake Brito—would only be held to answer for one of the nine felony counts with which they were originally charged.
“[Ivory and Brito] got out of there before they could be seen by the robbery victims,” Umhofer said. “There’s no evidence they instigated, promoted, or supplied anything to do with the robbery.”
Ivory and Brito, both Cal Poly football players at the time of their arrest, are still included in a single felony count: conspiracy to commit home invasion robbery, residential burglary, and grand theft.
Their fellow defendants—Cortland Fort, Dominique Love, and Cameron Akins—will still face all nine felony counts. Akins is also charged with three additional felonies for allegedly resisting arrest at the scene.
As Umhofer delivered his verdict, Ivory and Brito smiled and quickly shared the news with family members. However, as prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth explained, the single felony conspiracy charge could still be quite costly if Ivory and Brito are found guilty.
“The potential sentence for conspiracy to commit a crime (for example, robbery) is the same as the penalty for the actual commission of that crime (again, in our example, robbery),” Dobroth wrote in an email to New Times. “The potential penalty for residential robbery is three, six, or nine years in state prison. However, a judge may grant an individual probation and local jail time if it is in the interest of justice.”
While Umhofer found satisfactory evidence that Brito and Ivory had conspired but then withdrawn from the alleged robbery, he said the evidence presented thus far pointed to Fort allegedly serving as the getaway driver, Akins allegedly serving as the primary robber, and Love allegedly serving as his sidekick.
“My decision today is based on the evidence and whether I have a strong suspicion that the defendants committed the crime,” Umhofer said. “It’s not just that there could be other explanations. The people’s explanation must be either nonsensical or negate the circumstances which would give rise to their conclusions.
“I am fully satisfied that circumstantial evidence is substantial here,” he said.
Since Jan. 15 brought an end to the preliminary hearing for the case, it will now head toward a potential jury trial. The first step in that process will be a second arraignment for all five defendants on Feb. 9.