By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Ornelas, who has already been reprimanded for scratching 2-7 on a wall while waiting to be brought into the courtroom, is still smirking. Judge Woodford says he'll leave it to the deputies to take whatever security measures they deem necessary.
Finally the defense presents its case, mostly witnesses who testify to discrepancies about which of the two dark figures--the bigger one, Quintana, or the smaller one, Ornelas--ran from the scene with the assault rifle.
The surprise of the trial comes when Ornelas decides to testify. He's already in tears when he takes the stand, and his family cries along with him.
Carefully questioned by defense attorney Cleaver, who does not want to open the door for the prosecution to discuss "character issues," particularly his "peacefulness," Alejandro tells the jury that he was born and raised in Denver. He has an older sister, a younger sister and an older brother, Gerard. He also has a girlfriend and, at the time of Venus Montoya's murder, had two children.
That night began with an orgy of alcohol, he says. He drank a six-pack of sixteen-ounce beers, four shots of Remy Martin, two Amaretto Sours, part of a bottle of tequila and smoked some marijuana. He remembers only brief snatches of what happened after that. He doesn't remember changing into dark clothes or fetching the assault rifle from his mother's house, he says.
"Do you recall having a gun at Venus's apartment building?" Cleaver asks.
"No, I don't," he says, his voice breaking.
"Do you have a recollection of shooting Venus Montoya?"
"No, I don't."
"Did you shoot Venus Montoya?"
"I don't remember," he claims, sniffing loudly and reaching for a tissue.
"Are you afraid you might have?"
He nods, blows his nose. "Yes, 'cause I was there in the parking lot that night."
After Cleaver sits down, Sargent launches right in. "As far as you know, you shot Venus Montoya with an SKS assault rifle?"
"I don't remember."
"But you have no memory of not doing it?"
Sargent nods, then asks, "You shed tears when you took the stand?"
"But you never shed tears for Venus Montoya." It's a statement, not a question.
"How do you know that?"
"Answer the question," Sargent presses.
"Yes, I have," he says.
"Do you consider yourself an honest man?"
"In general," Sargent says.
"Before this situation...no."
Ornelas looks confused by this line of questioning, but it suddenly becomes clear where Sargent's going as he begins to recite the long list of lies Ornelas told Richardson when first asked about the killing and his gang affiliation.
"You lied 57 times," Sargent notes. "You lied because you didn't like the consequences of telling the truth."
"I was always taught, 'Don't tell the police nothing,'" Ornelas says.
In the spectator gallery, the well-dressed man nods and says, "That's right" loud enough to be heard throughout the courtroom. As his running commentary continues, the judge stops the proceedings and tells him to be quiet.
Sargent now brings up a rap song Ornelas wrote in prison in response to remarks Salvino Martinez had made to a newspaper reporter. In a November 1997 Westword article, Salvino had denied that he was a police informant. That rumor, he said, was spread by the police to set the gang members against each other and by members of the Deuce-Seven who were "jealous" of his drug-dealing enterprises. He accused the Deuce-Seven of showing up at parties and not only robbing those present, but putting "a gun to a girl's head and saying, 'You're gonna fuck me and all my homeboys'...I told them that shit with the women was going to catch up to them one of these days."
He claimed that the Deuce-Seven shot at him and that he may have returned fire. "Some of their cars got shot up, and somebody blew up Ornelas's mom's house...It might have been me, and maybe it wasn't.
"The funny thing is, they're all rollin' over on each other. They said I was a snitch, but they can hardly wait to snitch on each other."
Ornelas addressed his song to "Sal-snitcho: "Well, I'm back to set the record strait [sic]/to that punk ass snitch you know I hate. Your [sic] watching your back, now you gotta watch your front/Sooner or later you'll end up in the back of my trunk/I'm gonna start by telling the true facts and not fiction/about Salvino who ain't no good for nothing but snitchin'."
Sargent also introduces another "song" that Ornelas had intended for Sammy Quintana, in which he wrote about putting a "shank" through "the homey I thought I knew...It's not my fault you were facing the Death Penalty/You should of handled it and left out the homeys/And now you want to take us all down with you/Damn blood, you're through."
"I wrote that, yes," Ornelas concedes. "It's just a rap song; that's all it was."
The tears are gone; he's angry.
A baby cries in the gallery. Venus's family keeps reaching over to touch her twin, Vanessa, as if to connect with the girl who's no longer there.