Gang death trial to begin
Goshen shooting last April stunned community
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 -- The Truth, A1
Last updated: 1/28/2006 11:56:21 PM
By Justin Leighty
GOSHEN -- The shooting of José Martinez, which shattered a family, sent fear through the schools and stunned the community, will be back in the spotlight this week when a rival gang member goes on trial for murder.
David Rodriguez, 18, will stand trial starting Monday in Elkhart Circuit Court. If prosecutors convince a jury Rodriguez killed José, he could face 65 years in prison.
José, a 16-year-old, was a member of the Vatos Locos. Rodriguez was a member of SUR 13; so was José's brother, Israel Zamora.
Incidents between the two gangs had been escalating. The night of April 9, 2005, the SUR 13s chased a carload of VLs from the fairgrounds into the city; authorities plan to convince the jury that Rodriguez fired at the fleeing car, killing José.
Five other teens -- including Zamora -- have testified they were in the pursuing vehicle with Rodriguez that night. Those five teens are all scheduled to testify against Rodriguez this week.
They include Zamora, 19; Arturo Reyes, 18, and his brother Ricardo Reyes, 19; Armando Garcia Gaytan, 16; and Antonio Zacarias, 18. They're serving sentences ranging from one to two years for criminal gang activity.
Rodriguez also was charged with criminal gang activity and pleaded guilty to that crime.
The shooting had ramifications throughout the community. Police were on alert through the community and assigned to spend extra times at the schools, reacting to rumored threats for months.
School officials worked to stay on top of any simmering problems. Parents kept their students home from school based on the rumors of impending retaliation. Community groups jumped into action to try to offer alternatives to teens involved with gangs.
Moving into the summer months, area law-enforcement agencies were especially concerned with the possibility of a renewed eruption of gang violence around fair time. Ultimately, those fears weren't realized.
Goshen Police Chief Gary Penland thinks the broad-based efforts are at least part of the reason there have been no significant gang problems between the VLs and SUR 13s since José's death.
"It's been pretty quiet," Penland said. Occasionally the school resource officers, Mike Johnson at the high school and K. D. Miller at the middle school, will run across a small problem, but that's it.
Community anti-gang workers report the same thing.
"Really, they haven't heard of any gang problems at all," said Trinda Leach, leader of Moms Against Gangs, a group of Goshen mothers who took their teenagers and other at-risk kids to fun activities as a way to keep them out of trouble.
"Honestly, I believe that was because of all the publicity that was involved at that one time," she added. "I think it's hard to do something wrong with all the awareness that was around."
Rolando Sosa of Communities in Schools, who also helps at-risk kids through mentioning and activities, credits all the people who have reached out to teens.
"We keep the students busy; we try to give them a new vision for their lives," he said. "I don't think it is an accident. It is a careful planning that is going on with different organizations."
Penland said he's not aware of any security concerns connected to this week's trial. "You never know about that stuff. I certainly hope it doesn't (become a problem); we'll keep an eye on it," he said.