By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
After that, the cops questioned Alejandro Ornelas. He readily conceded belonging to the Westside CMG Bloods and even admitted to having participated in fifteen or so other shootings. But, he said, he had not killed Venus Montoya.
On October 8, Detective Richardson called Bango Martinez. In the background, he could hear the reputed gang leader telling his homies, "Lakewood po po's want to talk to me about Zag and Speed and that shit."
Bango Martinez then told the detective he didn't want to talk to him. He knew about the murder, he said, but would go to jail before he turned into a snitch.
More heat was about to come down on the CMG Bloods, but this time it was the Eastside gang that was in trouble. In early November, a Denver grand jury indicted ten members for running an "illicit enterprise" that included murder, drug trafficking and other violent acts. Five of the ten were also charged with the murder of Eric Thomas, a member of a rival Crips gang who was gunned down in a drive-by in October 1993.
The indictments marked the first time that the Denver District Attorney's office had used the state's racketeering law--known as the Colorado Organized Crime Act--to go after a street gang. Since the law allows a judge to enhance sentencing penalties, law enforcement officials view it as a way to get large numbers of gang members off the streets at once--and for a long time. Prosecutors in Jefferson and El Paso counties had already used the law to essentially disband some gangs.
The indictments were a major coup for the Denver gang unit and district attorney's office, which claimed the case would cripple the Eastside CMG.
Police informants within the gangs had played a major role in the successful investigation. Not surprisingly, they were now marked men.
In December, a defense attorney for one of the indicted gang members demanded the telephone numbers and addresses of prosecution witnesses. Two of the witnesses--former gang members--were in the district attorney's witness protection program. A third was serving a ten-year sentence in a drug case and had been placed in administrative segregation for his protection.
Prosecutors argued that witnesses and their family members were already getting death threats. But to their dismay, Denver District Judge Morris Ben Hoffman ruled that they had to reveal the information--although he also ordered the defense attorneys not to give the information to their clients.
The prosecutors appealed Hoffman's decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled in February that the safety of the witnesses outweighed the right of the defendants to confront their accusers.
At about the same time, the Lakewood police were finally getting a break of their own. An informant told an officer with the Denver gang unit that in January he'd been with some Bloods who were discussing their recent problems. The conversation had turned to the Montoya murder.
Alejandro Ornelas had been the shooter with the rifle, the informant said, but Bango Martinez was the man who made all the final decisions for the Westside CMG.
In May, seven members of the Eastside CMG Bloods accepted plea bargains that included dropping the murder charge in connection with the killing of Eric Thomas. Deputy District Attorney Tim Twining said he was pleased with the deal.
"The racketeering charges are all-encompassing," he said. "An important part of this prosecution was to send a message to gangsters that we're coming after you, and we're coming after you hard."
In early June, however, Judge Hoffman handed down lighter sentences than Twining had urged. And two leaders of the Eastside CMG gang--Michael "Mafia Mike" Robinson and Pernell "P-Loc" Hines--remained at large with the murder indictments still hanging over their heads.
Still, Twining hailed the effort. "It's not the sentences we had hoped for, to be sure, but breaking up the gang has been achieved," he said. "We took the assurance of prison. When they're in prison, they ain't gang-banging and wreaking havoc in the community."
Becky Estrada read the headlines about the Eastside CMG Bloods and wondered when Venus's killers would be brought to justice. These boys were stone-cold killers; Venus was not their first--or their last--victim.
Still, there was no reason for Becky to link Venus's killers to another newspaper headline, this one about the murder of Brandaline "Brandy" Duvall.
Brandy had last been seen on the night of May 30, when she left the home of a friend. An honor student in middle school, she would have been fifteen in another month; because of her diminutive stature--she was only 4'5"--she appeared even younger.
Brandy's body was discovered May 31 on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 6 next to Clear Creek a few miles west of Golden. She'd apparently been dumped from a car and was left half nude and covered with cuts.
It had taken several days to identify the body, and even then, police had few leads. Brandy had been raped and stabbed, but there was nothing to indicate that she'd been murdered by a gang.
Somehow, though, Becky knew that Brandy's killers were connected to the men who'd shot Venus. "It's the same guys," she told her family.