Thursday, December 4, 2008
C.A. Upholds Convictions in Mexican Mafia-Linked Murders
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has affirmed the murder convictions of a gang leader, based on testimony that he ordered the killing of one of his fellow gang members and drove the getaway car following the murder of another.
Javier Medina Marquez, identified in court as a member of the Avenues gang as well as the Mexican Mafia, is serving life-without-parole sentences for the killings of Allan Downey and Randy Morales, with witness murder and multiple murder special circumstances.
In 1995, Los Angeles police investigating the deaths of Sergio and Herman Sanchez, who were brothers and members of the rival Highland Park gang, spoke to Morales, an Avenues member in juvenile hall. Morales identified Marquez as the killer.
Morales, age 16, was killed on the night of Oct. 5, 1996 after attending a party near a prominent Avenues location.
Marquez was acquitted of the Sanchez murders in 1998. He was charged with the Morales murder along with fellow gang members George Vidales and Gerardo Reyes.
After two hung juries, prosecutors entered into a plea agreement with Vidales, who testified against Reyes and Marquez at the third trial.
Vidales testified that he had been approached at the party by Reyes and Vince Caldera, another Avenues-Mexican Mafia individual, who explained that Marquez wanted Morales killed before he could testify about the Sanchez murders. Vidales said the pair asked him to help lure Morales away by promising to take Morales to pick up a handgun Vidales had borrowed from him.
Morales left in a van with Vidales, Reyes and Caldera, Vidales said, and the group was later joined by Marvin Ponce, another Avenues member, before Vidales brought the van to a stop on a secluded back street, and watched Reyes shoot Morales in the head.
Reyes and Marquez were found guilty of the Morales murder. Reyes’ conviction was affirmed by Div. Eight in July of this year.
Marquez was also found guilty of killing Downey, apparently because Downey was thought to be withholding drug money from the Mexican Mafia.
Downey was shot three times as he drove along Eagle Rock Blvd. during early morning hours in the summer of 1995. A witness identified Marquez as the driver of the vehicle from which the shots were fired.
Another witness testified that Richie Aguirre, a fellow gang member and brother of a drug dealer Downey allegedly worked for, admitted being the shooter and said that Marquez was the driver.
On appeal, Marquez argued that Aguirre’s statement implicating him as the driver was testimonial hearsay and should have been excluded under the Evidence Code and/or the Confrontation Clause.
Presiding Justice Candace Cooper, however, in her unpublished opinion for Div. Eight, said the hearsay statement was not “testimonial”—and thus its admission did not violate the Confrontation Clause—because it was not made to a government agent.
Nor, Cooper said, was the statement inadmissible under state law, since the declaration-against-interest exception applied to Aguirre’s statement implicating both himself and the defendant.
Aguirre, the jurist noted, “did not attempt to shift blame to appellant or diminish his role at appellant’s expense; and in fact, he emphasized appellant’s relatively minor role as simply the getaway driver.”
Any error, she added, was harmless because the statement it was duplicative of other evidence, including the eyewitness identification of Marquez as the driver and testimony regarding his affiliation with the Mexican Mafia and the reason the organization wanted Downey dead.
Cooper also rejected the defense contention that Morales’ statement implicating Marquez in the killing of the Sanchez brothers was testimonial hearsay. The jurist agreed with the trial judge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler, that the statement, having been admitted to show the motive for Morales’ murder rather than its truth, was not hearsay.
Also rejected was the argument that Vidales’ testimony was insufficiently corroborated to be admitted under the accomplice rule. The presiding justice cited evidence that gang members regarded Morales as a “rat;” that the Mexican Mafia usually kills such persons; that Marquez had access to information about Morales as a result of discovery that had been turned over to the defense in connection with the Sanchez murders; and that Morales’ murder was conducted in the manner of a Mexican Mafia “hit,” namely by having someone the victim trusted lure him to a secluded spot.
The case is People v. Marquez, B193733.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company