Thursday, October 6, 2011
Court Throws Out Gang Members’ Murder Convictions, Cites ‘Inflammatory,’ ‘Irrelevant’ Testimony
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday ordered a new trial for three Compton gang members convicted of murdering a rival.
Div. One, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Victoria Chaney, said that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allen J. Webster Jr. abused his discretion by admitting “extensive, detailed, inflammatory, and overwhelmingly irrelevant gang evidence” at the trial of Joe Anthony “Leon” Toledo, Jose “Evil” Enciso, and David “Pelon” Guerrero.
The three were each sentenced to 50 years to life imprisonment for the 2002 murder of Darryl White.
Witnesses identified the defendants as members of the Compton Varrio 70 gang and the victim as belonging to Natural Born Players, or NBP, which is associated with the Leuders Park Piru gang. CV70 and Leuders Park are longtime rivals, and the White shooting was one of about a dozen associated with the rivalry between 1988 and 2005.
Prosecutors said White was killed in retaliation for having defaced CV70 graffiti. They said the defendants armed themselves and chased White and a cousin who was with him, that White hid out at a nearby house and thought he had eluded them, and that when White emerged from the house, Toledo and another gang member chased, cornered, and shot him.
Toledo and another gang member were identified as the shooters, Guerrero as having supplied the gun used by Toledo, and Enciso as having driven the vehicle in which the three initially pursued the victim, a blue Chevrolet Tahoe owned by Danny Guerrero, the defendant’s brother.
It took three years to make arrests. In the interim, shell casings found at the scene were matched to a gun recovered during a search of a car containing CV70 members, one of whom was Danny Guerrero.
In addition, Guerrero’s girlfriend, while in custody on a drug charge, related the circumstances on the day of the shooting, including seeing the defendants together and seeing Guerrero give Toledo a chrome revolver. The witness recanted those statements at the preliminary hearing.
Two gang experts with the Sheriff’s Department testified at the trial, explaining the history of the feud between the two gangs. Over defense objection, they were allowed to include in their testimony events that occurred after the White shooting, including assaults on two cousins of White.
One of the experts testified that crossing out a gang’s graffiti is treated as an act of severe disrespect, inviting retaliation. Gang members also face retaliation if they cooperate with law enforcement, he said, and in some instances, that retaliation may come from the Mexican Mafia.
Defense attorneys presented testimony that their clients were not present at the White shooting.
The Court of Appeal rejected defense attacks on the sufficiency of the evidence, saying jurors could have reasonably concluded from the testimony that the shooting was premeditated, that Guerrero and Enciso were accomplices, and that the defendants “expressly or tacitly reached an agreement to murder White in retaliation for his defacing CV70 graffiti.”
But the court also concluded that portions of the gang expert’s testimony, and of a tape recording of an interview with Dejuan Ferguson, a relative of the victim, were inadmissible and prejudicial.
When Ferguson testified at the trial two years ago, Guerrero’s counsel sought to prove that Ferguson was present at the shooting scene and Guerrero wasn’t. When Ferguson said he wasn’t there, counsel offered into evidence a contrary statement from the 2006 interview.
The trial judge, however, agreed with prosecutors that if part of the interview came in, the prosecution should be allowed to present the rest of it in order to explain that Ferguson lied about being at the scene because he wanted to frame Enciso.
Ferguson explained in the interview that Enciso had killed several members of Ferguson’s family, including a little boy; that when Ferguson was in prison, he was placed in protective custody because Enciso and his gang had threatened to kill him; and that Guerrero and Enciso “did all that killing around there” and went around bragging about it.
The full interview should not have been allowed in, Chaney wrote yesterday.
She explained that to the extent that Ferguson talked about Guerrero, the statements were admissible only to the extent that they explained the context of the portion of the interview that Guerrero’s counsel had introduced, and much of the interview was irrelevant to that purpose. And as to the other defendants, the statements were completely inadmissible because they had not offered any portion of the interview, the justice said.
Chaney went on to agree that the gang evidence was irrelevant and inadmissible to the extent it dealt with events occurring after the White murder. In addition, she said, some of the evidence dealt with unsolved crimes or crimes not involving gang activity, suggesting that the only purpose of the testimony was “to put the CV70 gang on trial,” and the Mexican Mafia testimony was likewise irrelevant because none of the defendants were shown to have ties to that group.
The evidence was clearly prejudicial, the justice went on to say.
“Given the extensive, detailed testimony about defendants’ gang membership, gang culture, gang territories, gang relations (including the highly inflammatory gang war testimony by [Detective] Hecht), gang activities, gangs’ practices of disposing of guns used in crimes, the way in which defendants’ and their associates’ conduct and alleged conduct conformed to the expectations of the gang and the Mexican Mafia, plus detective Hecht’s testimony regarding the behavior of a gang member, plus the prosecutor’s extensive reliance upon the gang testimony in argument, including his argument that ‘these guys are a well-oiled killing machine,’ it would have been remarkable if the jury had not been influenced by the improperly admitted and utilized gang evidence.” \
The defendants were represented on appeal by court-appointed attorneys Allen G. Weinberg for Toledo, Jeralyn Keller for Enciso, and Joanna McKim for Guerrero. Deputy Attorneys General Linda C. Johnson and Lance E. Winters represented the prosecution.
The case is People v. Toledo, B219800.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company