Gang member testifies against own gang for plea deal

By Alex A. Alonso
Streetgangs.com Staff Writer
December 30, 2010 | 8:01 p.m.

Jonathan Fajardo

LOS ANGELES – In September, defendants Jonathan Fajardo and Danny Aguilar were found guilty of first degree murder in the murders of Cheryl Green, 14, and Christopher Ash, who were both killed in December 2006. The jury recommended the death penalty for Fajardo because he was convicted in both murders, including seven counts of attempted murder stemming from the shooting of Green, plus an unrelated charge of possession of a weapon while in custody. Aguilar was convicted in the murder of Ash and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The jury recommended the death penalty for Fajardo and found his offense to be based on race and done for the benefit of a gang.

Trial Testimony
Fajardo and Aguilar were members of 204th Street, a Hispanic gang in the Harbor Gateway community of Los Angeles, and the trial against them concluded on Monday August 23 after eight days of testimony. On the following Tuesday and Wednesday the jury heard closing arguments about the role Fajardo played in the two separate murders of Cheryl Green, 14, and 204th Street affiliate Ash in December 2006. Co-defendant, Daniel Aguilar was only charged in the murder of Ash. The jury began deliberating on the case on Wednesday August 25 for only a couple hours and then took a hiatus until September 8, 2010 when deliberations resumed. The jury found the pair guilty of all counts on September 9.

Opening Statements
Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Ford opened the case on August 11, 2010 with the December 15, 2006 murder of Green. According to the first witness, Anthony Buckner, defendant Fajardo was shooting in the direction of him and his little cousin, Kenny Davis, 6, while Green was standing within feet. Buckner stated that Fajardo did not point the gun at Green but may have pointed it in her direction.

According to Buckner, several of his friends that were standing together were also shot. He noticed that Green was lying on the ground and according to Buckner, Green was not moving and he assumed that she was already dead. While he was testifying, Green’s mother, Charlene Lovett could not contain herself emotionally and was asked to leave the courtroom by Judge Wesley. Under cross examination by defense attorney Thomas White, Buckner admitted that Fajardo, the shooter, was not specifically pointing the gun at Green, but rather at the group of at least five people which Green was a part of.

The prosecutor called Donald Rucker who was a surviving victim of the shooting that suffered a through-and-through shot in the torso. He testified that Fajardo was holding a semi-automatic weapon and pointing the gun at Buckner. The murder weapon was never recovered in this case but a .44 caliber projectile was found at the scene. Under cross examination, defense attorney White asked Rucker about a previous hearing where he testified that he did not see the shooter and would not be able to recognize him. White also questioned Rucker about a six-pack of suspect photos that detectives showed him in 2007 where he identified Aguilar as the shooter, the co-defendant who is not charged in this murder. Perhaps early in the investigation, detectives may have lead Rucker to identified Aguilar as the shooter but he was never part of that shooting according to the evidence. Rucker also admitted to smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol shortly before the shooting occurred which may have impaired his ability to identify the shooter.

The Shooting
During the trial we learned about the circumstances that lead up to the shooting of Green. Earlier that day, Fajardo was at the Del Amo Market when he and a black individual got into a verbal confrontation. The black person pulled out a weapon and pointed it at Fajardo, then 18, and he ran off. Fajardo was furious that this person had threatened him with a gun, so he went to Ash’s house, were it is believed he retrieved a weapon and immediately returned to Del Amo Market looking for the person who threatened him. He saw a group of blacks around the corner, and believing that the person he was looking for was in that group, he opened fire on a group of male black, shooting several people and killing Green.

Former Gang Member Testifies
On Monday and Tuesday during the second week of testimony, the prosecution’s main witness, Jose “Chano” Covarrubias, who admitted to being one of the stabbers in the murder of Ash, testified to his role in the stabbing death. He had recently accepted a plea deal of 22 years in prison and escaped the death penalty for cooperating with the State. He was escorted into court wearing an orange prison issued jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled to the waist.

In his testimony he implicated Fajardo and Aguilar along with several other members of 204th Street in the stabbing murder of Ash including Raul “Turtle” Silva, Robert “Koots” Gonzales, Juan Carlos “Racoon” Pimentel, and Eugenio “Kave Kid” Claudio who are all scheduled to be tried for their role in the murder of Ash.

204th Street gang graffiti, 2007

204th Street gang graffiti, 2007

Covarrubias provided detailed testimony of how Ash, the second murder victim, was lured to the house of Silva to be killed. Several 204th Street gang members believed that Ash and Aguilar were snitches after they were arrested and released on December 21, 2006 in connection to the murder of Green. Testimony by Covarrubias is not clear whether all seven persons present knew of the plan to murder Ash, or if it was decided after Ash arrived at Silva’s residence without the entire group’s knowledge. Another possibility is that Pimentel and Covarrubias planned the murder of Ash while the others were present. The jury found Fajardo guilty in Ash’s murder even though Covarrubias providing conflicting testimony regarding Fajardo’s knowledge of the planned murder. It is fact that Fajardo struck Ash first when he was lured into the garage by Aguilar and that Fajardo was not involved in the actual stabbing.

According to Deputy Public Defender Gretchen Ford’s theory, the plot to kill Ash was known by all seven members and that it was a deliberate and premeditated act. Even if Fajardo and Aguilar did not inflict any death blows, they are considered just as culpable for first degree murder as the actual stabbers. Under direct examination, Covarrubias told the jury that he and Aguilar went to Silva’s house where the plot to kill Ash was planned. Covarrubias testified that Gonzales and Pimentel, where already at Silva’s house and that he met both of them for the first time that day. Eventually Claudio and Fajardo showed up as the seven of them discussed maters regarding Ash. Covarrubias testified that, Pimentel, whom he had never met before, pulled him to the side and asked if he thought that Ash was snitching about the Cheryl Green murder. Covarrubias was dating Ash’s sister and lived at their house, so Pimentel perhaps trusted Covarrubias’ words on the matter, but during the trial we never learned what information Ash provided to the police. It turns out that ammunition matching the caliber used to kill Green was recovered from Ash’s. The police claimed that they never received information from Ash about the Green murder but Covarrubias told Pimentel that he believed Ash was a snitch. Since Covarrubias had a tenuous relationship with Ash we never learn if he just lied about his former friend or if they genuinely believed that Ash was a snitch. Ironically, it was Covarrubias that became the main informant on this case.

Prosecutor Ford wanted to establish that Aguilar was present during the discussions about Ash, to provide the foundation that he was aware of the plot to murder Ash. Part of Aguilar’s defense was that he was not privy to the group’s plan to murder his friend Ash. Ford asked Covarrubias if Aguilar was present during the first group discussion at Claudio’s place, and initially he denied that Aguilar was present, but when Ford asked again, he tentatively stated that Aguilar was present. Although Covarrubias provides some accurate details regarding the stabbing death of Ash, at times his testimony was unconvincing and contradictory.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley

A second conversation about Ash occurred at Silva’s garage where Covarrubias stated that Pimentel made it clear to Aguilar of the plot to kill Ash. The plan was for Aguilar to pick up Ash and take him to the Silva’s house under false pretenses. Ash’s mother, Karen Blish remembers Aguilar picking up her son shortly after 10:30 p.m. Upon Ash’s arrival, according to Covarrubias, Ash was struck in the head by Fajardo, which is corroborated by Fajardo’s own statement he made the police. Covarrubias then stated that Pimentel told the group to stop and calm down as he affectionately put his arm around Ash and began talking to him, walking away from the rest of the group. After a few moments, Pimentel suddenly stabbed Ash in the neck and according to Covarrubias he joined in the stabbing by shanking Ash in the torso multiple times. According to coroner Vadims Poukens, the throat injury and several stabs wounds to the torso were fatal. In all, Ash had 74 stab wounds.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Antonio Bestard, the court learned that Covarrubias had an ongoing animosity against Ash that stemmed from an on-going relationship he had with Ash’s sister. Aside from the snitching that they believed Ash was involved in, Covarrubias already had reasons to dislike Ash. Covarrubias admitted that Aguilar and Ash were very close if not best friends but he also stated that Aguilar was aware that the murder was going to occur. When Aguilar came to pick up Ash the night he was killed, the mother stated that Aguilar was calm and that they hugged before they left.

Upon Further Review
The first important issue that the jurors had to decide was whether Aguilar was aware that the group led by Juan Carlos “Racoon” Pimentel was aware of the plot to murder Ash. The jury believed Aguilar was aware therefore they believed the testimony of Covarrubias. Based on everything Covarrubias testified to, I was not completely convinced that Aguilar was completely aware of the plot to murder Ash or if there was even a plot to murder him already laid out. The murder of Ash could have been decided between Pimentel & Covarrubias only after Ash arrived to the garage. It’s clear that the group wanted to discipline or punish Ash for what they believed was snitching, because he was struck by Fajardo as soon as he walked in. Eventually Pimentel stabbed Ash and Covarrubias joined in. None of the other 204th Street members participated in the stabbing and it was Covarrubias that harbored a strong hate towards Ash. Additionally the snitching allegations were never verified so I find it unlikely that his best friend would have knowingly lured Ash to his death. Aguilar was a low level gang member with no sort of violent reputation. I believed that Pimentel and/or Covarrubias knew that Aguilar would be the best person to bring Ash to the garage and they took advantage of his friendship.

Who killed Cheryl Green?
The evidence was overwhelming towards the guilt of Jonathan Fajardo as being the trigger man in the shooting that caused the death of Green, 14. What was revealing during the trial was that Fajardo did not actually target Green, rather he was trying to shoot at several males that were standing in a driveway that Green was also standing in. The media did a terrible job reporting what occurred in that driveway, suggesting that Fajardo was seeking to kill anyone black person, including a 14 year-old girl. According to two of the surviving victims, Fajardo was not pointing the gun at Green but pointing it at them. Also, the motive for this shooting was always described by the media as being racial, but during the trial, we learned that Fajardo had an altercation with a black male at the Del Amo Market earlier that day and that the other male brandished a weapon causing Fajardo to run off. Fajardo soon returned with a gun looking for that same male, and that’s when he found several males standing in a driveway near the market when he began shooting. This evidence suggests to me that the motive was not a racial although 204th Street had a reputation of assaulting blacks going back several years. Because of this, the DA decided to charge Fajardo with a racially motivated enhancement which the jury found to be true.

The evidence the DA used to establish racial motivation was antagonistic photos of graffiti that 204th Street members wrote towards blacks. None of the graffiti writings were written by Fajardo nor did he have a history of any racial animosity towards blacks, but the prejudice that a gang case creates can cause a jury to find a member guilty for the actions of others. In 2007 the LA Weekly reported that Fajardo had black family members and that he was on good terms with. I didn’t believe that the State proved that Fajardo was racist or that the shooting was racially motivated. Additionally, I did not hear any evidence that the shooting of Green and the other victims was gang-related. Although Fajardo was a gang member, it was having a gun brandished on him that that caused him to return back with a weapon to seek revenge. None of the victims were gang members nor did any of the victims state that Fajardo made intimidating gang statements. He was a gang member who sought revenge for a non-gang related act. Combined with all the other accusations that Fajardo was facing, I can see how a jury was compelled to find him guilty across the board. The murder of Ash was certainly gang related.

Fajardo is scheduled to be sentenced on January 6, 2011 by Judge David Wesley.

———————————————————
Alex Alonso is an author, film maker and founder of Streetgangs.com. He is also a contributing author in the 2010 book entitled “Black Los Angeles: American Dreams Racial Realities” (New York University Press). He can be reached via email, at 800-249-1324, or on Twitter.

alexalonso Posted by on Dec 30 2010. Filed under Features, People of CA v. Jonathan Fajardo. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Comments for “Gang member testifies against own gang for plea deal”

  1. jose

    damn good reporting alonso, sad sad story though.now i see how the media blows shit up.

    • thanks Jose, appreciate that.

      • Harrd Times

        STREETGANGS ,COM IS A LATINO SITE YALL SO THIS IS MY LAST POST I POSTED SOMETHING TO LET THE CRIP & BLOODS KNOW AND THEY BLOCK IT BUT AS OF TODAY I’M OFF THIS SUR13 SITE IF SAY SHIT ABOUT THE ESE THEY WILL BLOCK YO ASS OUT AS WELL DONT LET THEM COME TO YO HOOD A FILM SHIT THEY WORK FOR LA MEMAE BROWN PRIDE ,STOP KILLING YOUR OWN PEOPLE ,OWN ME MY TURE RJDAS THIS IS IT ,WE NEED TO GET OUR OWEN SITE FOR CRIPS AND BLOODS ,NOT OTHERS THEY WILL KEEP TRYING TO KEEP YOU AT EACH OTHER , DONT FALL FOR IT MUCH LUV TO ALL REAL CRIPS & BLOODS REALGANSTER HARRD TIMES !

  2. gateway

    When do these 204th Street members go on trial?

    – Raul “Turtle” Silva
    – Robert “Koots” Gonzales
    – Juan Carlos “Racoon” Pimentel
    – Eugenio “Kave Kid” Claudio

  3. Jane

    I keep looking for the formal sentencing reports, but I can’t find anything on the net. It was supposed to take place January 6th. Do you know why it was postponed or if it has already taken place and not been reported?

  4. rani

    why do you care when they go on trial?

  5. Dee

    The entire trial was a complete misjustice. Aguilar’s attorney did absolutely nothing to illuminate the discrepancies in Covarrubias’ testimonies, yes I said TESTIMONIES. His first testimony was completely different from the others his story got more and more intense as he had to have been “coached” so that his last testimony would impact the trial. What did Covarrubias have to lose? A lot! If you read Mr. Alonso’s article, ammunition was found at the Ash home (in the bedroom in which Covarrubias stayed with Ash’s sister) which were matched to the Green case. Covarrubias had the potential to being convicted of the deaths of Ash and Green, just saying. The jurors should have seen right through Covarrubias’ testimonies, but obviously didn’t care to. And for Aguilars’ “Death Penalty Certified” Attorney, sure was a poor excuse for Defense. By the way the trial went, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they all worked in concert just to make their case, this is my opinion! I can’t say what the thoughts of the jurors were, whether they just wanted it to be over so that they could get on with their lives, they just didn’t care, or put their trust in the system, I really don’t know. What I do know is that it sickens me. I guess Mr. Alonso witnessed the same trial as I!

  6. thewestside

    Aguilar Fajardo and covarubbias are all bitch made ass nggas . What a bunch of snitch ass fuck boys. Fuck there mom’s and dead relatives , covarubbias fuck that nigga is getting raped in pc with Aguilar and Fajardo

    • Dee

      I can tell just by your comment and profile name “thewestside” that you’re speaking from your own personal jail violation experience. And for some ignorant individual such as yourself that talks crap and wishes ill on those he/she doesn’t even know on a personal level that uses N**** in every sentence shows your lack of upbringing, you have absolutely no class whatsoever. I usually don’t waste my time on scum like you, and this is the one time i will… but I felt compelled to give you a little insight as to the vile kind of individual you actually are!

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