SANTA CRUZ -- A man who prosecutors called a high-ranking Watsonville gang member is headed to state prison on a 10-year sentence after a Santa Cruz County judge denied his request for probation.
Jesse Ybarra, 33, was convicted in October of assaulting a fellow inmate at the Santa Cruz County Jail, possessing a weapon in jail and being an active gang member.
Judge Paul Burdick postponed sentencing twice to allow time to consider Ybarra's offer to turn his life around and counsel people against gang life if the judge gave him a break and placed him on probation.
Burdick said he was "intrigued" by Ybarra's offer.
In court this week, Ybarra told the judge he had dropped out of the gang and wanted to change his life.
"I'm recently a father. I'm just -- I'm done with all this stuff. I'm tired of it," Ybarra said, choking up. "If I could, I swear I'd go back and change it."
Prosecutor Alex Byers said Ybarra was a high-ranking Norteño member with a lengthy criminal history that started at the age of 13. Ybarra has spent most of his adult life incarcerated and poses a significant risk to the community, Byers said.
Ybarra's family has disputed the prosecution's characterization of Ybarra as a "high-ranking" gang member.
Defense attorney Bryan Hackett prevailed on Burdick to take Ybarra on his word, telling the judge it represented "an opportunity to take a brave and innovative step." He also said that he had
Byers said he hopes that Ybarra does try to change, but "we can't afford the risk."
On Friday morning, Burdick said he'd been unable to find any circumstances that would permit him to grant Ybarra probation. He sentenced him to 10 years in state prison.
"I tried to figure out a way, but your prior history was such that I could not deal with the risk it posed," Burdick said.
With credit for good behavior and time served in addition to state sentencing structures, Ybarra will likely only serve an actual prison term of about four years.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmpasko96