Grand jury indicts 13 alleged members of San Jose street gang

Mark Gomez and Leslie Griffy
Mercury News
Article Launched: 05/15/2008 11:07:20 AM PDT

More than a dozen members of a ruthless Norteño street gang allegedly responsible for four murders, several attempted murders and assaults in San Jose are behind bars, the result of a 1 1/2 year-long police investigation.

A five-week grand jury proceeding culminated Tuesday with indictments being issued against 13 alleged members of El Hoyo Palmas, described by police as a multi-generation gang that has operated in San Jose for about 30 years.

Police and prosecutors today revealed some details of the investigation into the gang known on the streets as EHP, a gang that terrorized neighborhoods with “senseless and horrific acts of violence” over the past two years, said Lt. J.R. Gamez, head of the police homicide unit.

One of the murder victims was a 15-year-old boy. The group partially funded itself through drug sales. Members allegedly shot into homes and at cars, threatened witnesses and attempted to take over the streets in neighborhoods where it operated.

But early Wednesday morning, more than 90 police officers descended on neighborhoods throughout the city, picking alleged gang members and searching their homes. Some of the indicted EHP suspects were already in custody on various charges, including homicide. The alleged gang-bangers face charges that include weapons possession, witness intimidation and conspiracy to commit murder.

San Jose own the streets.”

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office presented evidence that members of EHP were responsible for the homicides and other crimes to a Santa Clara County criminal grand jury in late March.

The investigation into El Hoyo Palmas took a dramatic turn when three gang-bangers allegedly shot a man as police, who were trailing the group, watched. It was March 30, 2007, when members of an elite police special operations unit saw the alleged gang members pump 12 bullets into Hernan Koba, a locksmith who had just finished helping a client.

The suspects in Koba’s killing, Samuel Castro, 21, Michael Espana, 18, and Orlando Rojas, 17, were arrested.

“It was a pivotal point in our investigation,” homicide detective Sean Pritchard said. After the three suspects in the Koba killing were picked up, they tried to warn other gang members that they were under surveillance.

Davis said that many of the victims, like Koba, weren’t gang members. “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Police and prosecutors declined to give many details about the case, saying that the investigation and the case is ongoing.

But a court proceeding earlier this year shed some light on how the links were made. A prosecutor said in court that ballistic tests tied the gun used in Koba’s killing to three other shootings in San Jose, including two homicides.

The gun had been used Jan. 27, 2007, in the murder of Rigoberto Gonzalez, 22, who was killed in the 1300 block of San Tomas Aquino Parkway and March 28 in the slaying of 15-year-old Edgar Martinez, shot in the 1600 block of Virginia Avenue.

The EHP members are also being charged in the murder of Luis Rey Medina, 19, killed Dec. 14, 2006 on the 4000 block of Hamilton Avenue. Officials believe that Espana and Castro killed Medina and Gonzales. They along with Rojas are believed to have shot and killed Martinez and Koba.

Police launched their investigation after Medina’s slaying, with several different units trailing known gang members and eventually witnessing Koba’s murder. Pritchard and gang investigations detective Anthony Kilmer led the investigation and put together the pieces that led to the arrests.

In 2007, San Jose saw a spike in a gang violence, prompting Mayor Chuck Reed to pump another $1 million into the city’s gang prevention task force, a body that includes community and faith based organizations and school officials, as well as law enforcement. Officials said they hoped the arrests announced today would be a deterrent to teens considering joining a gang and could cripple the 150-person gang.

“We are really confident a lot of the decision-makers were taken into custody,” said Rikki Goede, head of the police’s gang unit.

According to local gang experts, members of rival Norteño and Sureño gangs commonly drive throughout the city and actively seek out targets wearing the wrong colors and attack them.

Norteños, with their roots in the Nuestra Familia prison gang, define themselves with the color red and the number 14. During the past several months, Norteños, the dominant gang in San Jose, have been lashing back against an invasion of their turf by their southern rivals, the Sureños, who are connected with the Mexican Mafia prison gang, also known as La Eme. Sureños are known for their traditional blue colors and the No. 13.

“What we are talking about today is one gang,” Davis said. “We’re not done.”

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