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Dealing With the Devil

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

The Denver cops had been after the Deuce-Seven for a long time, without much luck. "Some fool would accuse us of something, and somebody'd go visit them and say, 'I hear you talked about Bang or Boom or Panch. Well, you fucked up, and you better change your mind. And since you gave a statement, now you better go tell the motherfuckers that you did it.'

"There were a few fools who decided they would rather take the blame for something they didn't do than stand by their statements about us," Antonio remembers. "So we were beating a lot of dumb-shit counts on account of 'mistaken identity.'"

He smiles. "And there were a couple of times we really weren't guilty."
Antonio was awakened one Saturday morning in July 1992 by loud knocking on the back door. He went to see who was there and was met by police officers with guns drawn who ordered him back into the house.

"Some of the kids in the neighborhood were shooting off firecrackers," he says. "But, of course, our neighbors reported that we were shooting guns in the backyard...And there we were in our boxers and T-shirts, trying to wake up."

The occupants of the house were taken to the backyard in handcuffs and placed on their stomachs. Meanwhile, five officers went into the house without a warrant and began searching the premises. "They found a paintball gun under the couch...acted like it was some sort of nuclear weapon." But no one was arrested, and the cops told Antonio and his friends that they were free to go back inside.

The next night the police began pulling over cars that stopped by the house. This time a few people were arrested on outstanding traffic warrants, but most were let go.

Then, a day later, Antonio, his Uncle Jimmy and a cousin were in the house when they saw police cars suddenly appear at the front and back. This time the cops kicked in the back door and arrested everybody...for trespassing.

The police took their time searching the house. Some even sat on the couch to watch television while their prisoners waited in the kitchen with handcuffs on. But one of the officers climbed into the attic and found a shotgun. Antonio concedes that the gun was his, but, he says, "Who cares? They didn't have any business in my attic. We're supposed to follow the law, but they're not?

"The cops never had any warrants," he says. "They kept saying that the neighbors' complaints gave them 'probable cause.'"

The trespassing charge was dropped when the property manager said they had a right to be in the house. Antonio and the others were bonded out by midnight. The next morning, Antonio returned to the house to get his things. He was still trying to go to school every day, and all of this police attention was threatening his graduation plans.

As he drove away, he was pulled over by a motorcycle patrolman who'd been waiting in the alley behind the house.

Antonio had slipped up. "I don't know why, but I had a 9 millimeter on the seat next to me," he says, shaking his head. "It wasn't even hidden...I had bought it from a crackhead who stole it from someone's house. So now I was lookin' at felony theft by receiving."

Back in a jail cell, Antonio realized that, legally or not, the police were going to keep coming after him until they could put him in prison for a long time. And he wouldn't be able to attend school or be an artist if he was spending all his time in a cell or a courtroom.

"I finally said to myself, 'You know what? I give up. I'm gonna stop sellin' drugs. I'm gonna stop bangin' and doin' any kind of illegal shit. I give up. I quit.'"

The trial of Alejandro Ornelas lasts four days. After Sargent's opening, defense lawyer Enwall gets his turn. He begins by attacking Sammy Quintana, "the state's star witness." The evidence, he says, will point to Quintana, who "held the head of another girl...while her throat was slit," as the man who also shot Venus Montoya.

"He lied to get a deal," says Enwall, peering at the jury over the half-glasses perched on the end of his nose.

After a night of drinking, Quintana and his client had come up with a "half-baked" plan to kill Salvino Martinez. It was Quintana who carried the assault rifle, Enwall says. "Alejandro Ornelas is guilty of a crime...He is not guilty of first-degree murder."

After Enwall takes his seat, the prosecution uses a series of witnesses to paint an emotional portrait of violence. Vanessa Montoya in tears as she's asked to identify a photograph of her twin. Survivors from the apartment who vividly recall the acrid gunsmoke, the sight of brain matter hitting the wall, the smell of blood. The image of Venus's fiance, Johnny, lying across her body, crying, "No, don't do this to me," then taking off before the police arrive because there are warrants out for his arrest.

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