Jury Selection begins for Highland Park Murders

City New Service | June 21, 2006

Los Angeles – Jury selection began today in the hate crimes trial of four reputed gang members who allegedly conspired to force black residents out of Highland Park via two murders and other violent attacks.

The federal case involves the murders of Highland Park resident Christopher Bowser, who was gunned down on Dec. 11, 2000, and 38-year-old motorist Kenneth Kurry Wilson, who was killed on April 18, 1999.

Prosecutors allege the four men agreed to occasionally kill in order to achieve their goal of forcing black people out of their neighborhood. They are members of the Avenues 43 gang, a clique of the larger Avenues, or Avenida, group, according to the government.

One of the defendants, Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, 31, is already serving two life sentences following state convictions for his role in murdering Bowser and another black man.

The federal indictment, which was filed when Avila was already in state prison, accuses him of driving a car that carried a “known co-conspirator” who killed Bowser.

The indictment does not allege Avila participated directly in Wilson’s murder. It alleges the other defendants conspired to murder Wilson because he was black.

The other defendants to be tried are 27-year-old Gilbert “Lucky” Saldana, who is serving a life sentence in state prison for another murder; Fernando “Sneaky” Cazares, 26; and Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, 28, who allegedly served as a lookout in the Wilson slaying.

A fifth defendant, Merced “Shadow” Cambero has been a fugitive since being indicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Cambero, 27, allegedly was the second triggerman in Wilson’s murder.

If convicted, the defendants face life in prison without parole.

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