How "gang-related" trials are tainted from the start

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alexalonso
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How "gang-related" trials are tainted from the start

Unread post by alexalonso » September 14th, 2009, 4:31 pm

This topic correspond to the post that can be found at http://www.streetgangs.com/street-gangs ... elated:The over prosecution of gang members in Los Angeles County have made all criminal acts committed by gang member done for the benefit of the gang regardless of the circumstances.

Graffiti of the Street Villains and the King Blvd click of 18th Street in alley one-half black east of 40th Place & Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles - photo taken July 15, 2009

By Alex Alonso (Streetgangs.com)
September 14, 2009


LOS ANGELES - During the last several years, the number of cases that the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles prosecute as "gang-related" using the twenty-one year old, Street Terrorism and Enforcement Act (186.22) have been on the rise. A gang member's background, affiliation and identity often become a central theme of a trial, even when that identity may be irrelevant to the facts of the case.
A gang member with a minor or no criminal background, responsibly employed, and a family person, can receive an unfair trial as the defendant's gang identity will bias the jury's ability to be impartial. Recently, a conviction against Rafael Madrigal Jr. who was sentenced in 2002 to 53 years in prison by Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe for a non-fatal “gang” shooting was overturned. With conflicting eyewitness testimony and other evidence that suggested Madrigal Jr. was at work 30 miles away, was not enough to overcome the highly prejudicial gang statements that caused this jury to sway towards a guilty verdict. In 1996, the same thing happened to Mario Rocha, then 16, was accused of murdering a high school student at a party. Even though Rocha was not a member of a gang, the evidence that pointed to his innocence was tainted by other irrelevant "gang facts" that caused a jury to find him guilty. Rocha was eventually released from prison after serving 10 years in prison and his conviction was too overturned.

Juries often hear the word "gang," and quickly assume guilt, without realizing that marginal members and associates of the gang are not actively involved in criminal activity. Ultimately the court does a terrible job at describing gang culture, allowing police officers with training limited to law enforcement conferences that focus on logos, graffiti, and tattoos, for identification purposes to make sociological, psychological, and criminological conclusions on gangs without no expertise or education in any of those sciences.

In a recent case that I testified in, People v. Jose Garcia and Steven Menendez (BA318570), the gang aspect of a shooting that left one person dead was grossly overstated. Noel Velasco, 26, and Street Villain (STV) gang member found out that his friend Pedro, an 18th Street gang member, was having an affair with his girlfriend Connie with whom he had three children with. Velasco was devastated to not only find out that Connie was involved with Pedro but that she was pregnant by him also. A witness explained to LAPD Detective Paula Chavez that Pedro was considered Noel’s “closest friend.” Velasco and Pedro’s relationship became volatile, as they engaged in several arguments leading up to an attempted murder on Pedro by Velasco on March 8, 2007 that killed an uninvolved youth, Danny Saavedra, 15, while he was playing basketball at 538 W 82nd Street. When Velasco decided to kill Pedro, who hung out at 82nd Street off Vermont, he took with him two minors, Jose Garcia, 16 and Steven Menendez, 14, both new members of STV.

Garcia was the driver, Menendez was the front passenger and Velasco was armed in the back seat. After the shooting, Velasco exited the vehicle on Hoover & Vernon and left the two minors Menendez and Garcia alone to get arrested later that day. The two kids were charged with 1st degree murder with a special gang allegation which means that the shooting was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang, the Street Villains.  The accidental killing of Saavedra was tragic and Velasco was completely responsible for what occurred on 82nd Street on March 8, 2007 but his actions were in no way influenced by his gang affiliation but rather from a love triangle that went fatal. In the trial, prosecutor Sean D. Coen falsely but successfully argued that the killing of Saavedra was the result of a gang feud between STV and 18th Street and the fact that Velasco and intended victim, Pedro were at one time close friends, and that Connie was involved with both men, were ignored in the prosecution’s case. These two simple facts revealed that the true motivation of the murder had absolutely nothing to do with gangs. Unfortunately the participants of this love triangle happen to be gang members, therefore their identities became central to the trial rather than their motives. Officer John Flores, gang cop from the South West division, testified that he believed that the murder was done to promote the gang and was done on behalf of the gang, ultimately making the punishment for this shooting more severe, and juries completely detached from gang life become frightened by the fear card that cops play during these gang trials.

The jury was not aware of any love triangle until I testified in the case on July 20, 2009 and prosecutor Coen made an effort to suppress details about the love triangle because it went completely against their gang theory, therefore I was not able to thoroughly flesh out the non-gang aspects of the shooting that influenced this murder. Additionally, I testified that if this was a gang shooting against 18th Street, there were two other 18th Street neighborhoods geographically closer to the STV neighborhood that they could have sought out a rival from, rather than driving over 40 blocks, from 43rd & Vermont to 82nd & Vermont and through other rival neighborhoods to go shoot an 18th Street member. The circumstances of this specific shooting did not meet the normal protocol of a gang-related murder.

Ultimately the two teen boys were convicted of murder and the jury believed that innocent victim, Saavedra was killed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. Defendants in these types of cases have an uphill fight defending exaggerated claims made by law enforcement officers and prosecutors, while jurors with little to no knowledge about the complexities of street gangs are given simple one sentence definitions of gangs from the California penal code. Cops describe the rare acts of murder or other serious crimes as "primary activities" while judges allow this judicial farce to occur. Defense attorneys are also to blame, because they let the testimony of very opinionated police officers get served as fact, rarely objecting to baseless statement made by police officers in court. Lastly, judges during these gang trials often oversee these trials like a second prosecutor making the task for the defense attorney more difficult, ultimately resulting in a hopeless case for the defendant.

So what happened to Velasco after the failed murder attempt of Pedro, and the arrest of Garcia and Menendez for the murder of Saavedra? He was found murdered on August 9, 2007, shot multiple times while he was sitting in his car at 850 W 43rd Place in Los Angeles where his family lived. Immediately, rumors in the neighborhood began to circulate that pointed to Pedro as the assassin responsible for the murder, but LAPD investigators have never made an arrest or even questioned Pedro.

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Re: How

Unread post by MadIP » September 20th, 2009, 4:27 am

THE JUDGES WILL ALWAYS TRY TO GIVE U THE HIGHEST PENALTY, FIRST THEY SHOULD ASK WHAT MAKES A PERSON A GANG MEMBER OR NOT , BUT IF YOUR A CERTIFIED GANG MEMBER THERE ARE 99 % CHANCES, U WILL GET CHARGED WITH : PARTICIPATION IN A CRIMINAL STREET GANG, OR IF YOU AINT COMMITTED A CRIME WITH THE GANG, THEY GIVE U A PLEA, TO PLEAD GUILTY TO GANG RELATED CRIME, JUST TO REDUCE UR SENTENCE, EVEN IF IT WASNT LIKE THAT, I TELL EM THOSE JUDGES THERE ARE SOME CRIMES DONE ON A GANG MEMBERS OWN, AND SOME WITH THE GANG, AND THERE JOB IS TO DINTINGUISH THEM, BUT NOT CHARGE WITH A GANG CRIME EVERYTIME THERES A GANG MEMBER INVOLVED.

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