Dealing With the Devil

When the Deuce-Seven Bloods went hunting for a snitch, they shot Venus Montoya instead.

And Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana, who'd pleaded guilty to two second-degree-murder charges for the same deal. In a month he'd be taking the stand again, this time against Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas for the murder of another girl, Venus Montoya, a year earlier.

"I did not look at her face. I didn't know her name," Quintana had testified.

"What was she to you that night?" Deputy District Attorney Hal Sargent asked. "What was she to your gang?"

"She was a girl that supposedly was going to be down to screw everybody."
"You care much about what she thought that night?"
Quintana shrugged and shook his head. "Other people took control of that situation if she didn't want to...We were all in agreement to take her out."

"When you say 'take her out,' you're not talking about taking her someplace?" Sargent clarified. "You're talking about killing her?"

Quintana nodded. "Not out to dinner."
"What do you think about your role in the killing of a fourteen-year-old girl?"

"I'm guilty," Quintana said, as he tried to wipe tears from his face with his manacled hands.

"How does that make you feel?"
"Shouldn't have happened," he said, his voice hardly louder than the sounds of sorrow in the gallery.

And finally, there was Jose "Uncle Joe" Martinez, the uncle of Daniel Martinez Jr., who'd be tried later for the same crime. He testified as Vigil's family, his friends from the old neighborhood around 27th and California, glared at him. "They was possessed by the fuckin' devil," he said.

Although Judge Michael Villano admonished Jose to quit the theatrics and just answer the questions, he managed to squeeze out some tears as he described how much he loved "little Frankie." Then he accused Vigil, as had all the others, of being the first to say that Brandy must die.

"Where was Little Bang?"
"Standing there...laughing, like this was a big old fuckin' joke."
But in the end, Frank Vigil sealed his own fate--with a letter he'd written from his jail cell to Antonio "Boom" Martinez, Danny's brother, before the trial:

Hey dog wats up...I guess that bitch ass nigger Zig is tryin to pin that other shit on Speed. He's trying to sing. I'm the one going out like a trix ass bitch, Blood. I'm a real nigga like you and Pancho.

I gest that only God can judge me now...This is still westside till I die.
Lil Bang
Defense attorney Randy Canney called no witnesses. There was no one who'd been at the house that night left to dispute the claim that his client had been the first to suggest they kill the girl.

In closing, he could argue only that sixteen-year-old Frank Vigil was too drunk and too intimidated by the bigger, older members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods to try to stop what happened. That the prosecution witnesses were lying to "save their own skins." That the prosecutors had "cut deals and brought five witnesses in here while truth and justice went out the door."

But in his closing, Deputy District Attorney Mark Randall countered: "Frank Vigil was not afraid of them; he is one of them. In his letter, he proclaims himself a Blood. He's protecting the organization. 'I'm a real nigger, like you and Pancho.'"

It takes the jury less than six hours to reject Canney's assertions. As they shuffle back into the courtroom one last time, many of the jurors are in tears. They gaze sympathetically at Brandy's family and avoid looking at Frank Vigil, who sits staring at the table in front of him, pale and mute. He lifts his head only when the judge asks for the verdict forms.

"In regard to counts one and two...first-degree murder...guilty," Villano says.

Brandy's mother, Angela Metzger, stifles a sob and buries her face in her hands. Rose Vasquez cries quietly, her shoulders shaking as her husband, Paul, puts an arm around her and wipes at his own eyes with his other hand.

Across the aisle, Frank Vigil's mother, Sally, fights to maintain her composure while tears roll down her cheeks. Other family members and friends cry out and collapse in each other's arms.

Then, strangely, Frank Vigil turns to the jury and begins to smile and nod. Is he frightened and trying not to show it, as his lawyer thinks? Or is this his idea of going out like a trix ass bitch?

While Antonio was locked up at Lookout Mountain, Theresa remembers, she visited him at least once a week. She'd come to realize that only at Lookout, under her friend Lonnie Lynn's watchful eye, was her son able to finally just be a boy. She'd never forget the day she arrived and saw Antonio outside playing. He looked so young and carefree, running back and forth across the field, yelling and laughing with boys he'd probably exchanged bullets with on the outside. This is the way it's supposed to be.

Theresa had met Lynn, a six-foot, nine-inch former pro-basketball player, several years before when she was working as a cook. At the time, she'd asked him to speak to her sons, particularly fourteen-year-old Danny, who was getting in trouble at school. But it hadn't done much good. There'd been too little of Lonnie in their lives, just as there'd been too little of Bill Rollins and far too much gang pressure. We're your family. We're your homeboys. We're the ones you can trust. Who else is going to give you the means to money, ho's and clothes?

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