Dealing with the Devil

The Deuce-Seven Bloods spin out of control, ripping families apart--including their own.

When Villano returns to the courtroom, lead prosecutor Hal Sargent is still seething. "I don't care what he says to me," he tells the judge. "But the victim's family shouldn't have to put up with that sort of thing."

Villano, who's been on the bench for twenty years, looks at Dave Kaplan for his response. The defense attorney shrugs. "I wasn't present...It may have been a staring contest."

Sargent shakes his head. "It was not a 'staring contest,'" he says. "He has the right to a public trial, but he doesn't have a right to try to intimidate the victim's family."

From now on, Villano says, he'll stay in the courtroom until the prisoner is removed. "I won't put up with it," he says to Pancho, who stares at him with no visible reaction. "If the problem persists," the judge adds, "he'll be excluded from his own trial."

There will be other incidents, although not all involving Pancho directly. One afternoon, with the court in recess, Rose and Paul Vasquez walk out to their new car only to find it surrounded by a dozen young men, two of whom sit on the hood. A relative goes to fetch a deputy, but by the time he arrives, the young men are gone.

Driving out of the courthouse complex later with several other family members in his car, the relative finds himself boxed in on two sides by young men in cars. He drives as fast as he can until the others finally tire of their game and turn off.

The day Jacob "Smiley" Casados is scheduled to testify, a mistake by the escorts allows Pancho to see him in a hallway. "You aren't going to be Smiley much longer," he tells the young man whom he beat into the gang on the night Brandy died.

August 24, 1998
"The People call Jose Martinez." Deputy District Attorney Mark Randall, the worrier of the three prosecutors, turns toward the door at the back of the courtroom.

The spectators turn in their seats to follow his gaze. An angry muttering rises from the defense side of the gallery as "Uncle Joe" saunters in wearing a tight white T-shirt and blue jeans. His black hair is greased and combed back.

Uncle Joe is living out of state in a witness-protection program. If he's frightened now, he doesn't show it. His posture is all insouciance as he stands before Judge Villano and raises his right hand. He even stifles a yawn as he climbs up into the witness stand.

It's mildly disappointing for some courtroom observers who sat through Frank Vigil's trial. Then, Uncle Joe was all over the place. Pounding on the witness stand, rising out of his seat, cussing and muttering diatribes.

Out of the jury's hearing, Randy Canney, Vigil's attorney, had questioned whether Jose Martinez was high on crack cocaine and should be allowed to continue testifying. When Uncle Joe stayed on the stand, Canney had asked the same question. "No, sir," he'd replied, his antics calmed only momentarily by Villano's admonitions that he "stop doing that."

But today Uncle Joe is much calmer. His voice is singsong Mexican, and even a word like "sir" comes out polysyllabic.

"Some people call you Uncle Joe?" Randall asks.
"Sometimes."
"Let's talk about that." Randall begins trying to lay the groundwork for the convoluted familial nature of this case. "What is your brother's name?"

Jose Martinez has four brothers, but he knows what the prosecutor wants and offers only one name. "Danny Martinez."

"Who are his sons?"
"Antonio Martinez and Danny Martinez."
"Danny Junior?"
"Yes."
"Does Danny Junior have another name that he goes by?"
"Bang."
"He is your nephew?"
"Yes, sir."
"Is Bang involved in a gang?"
"Yes, sir."
"Do you know what gang?"
"Crenshaw Mafia Bloods."
"Any certain block or sect?"
"27th Street Gang."
"Do you know who is in charge of that gang?"
"I think Danny Martinez."

Randall asks who else is considered powerful in the gang. But before Martinez can answer, Kaplan objects. The attorneys gather before the judge, where Kaplan argues that testimony about the gang connections is supposed to be limited. The mere mention of the word gangs, he fears, is prejudicial to his client.

"I am just asking who is in control here," Randall responds. "It is in the discovery that they've been in his house before and assaulted people there before...I am just going to talk about how often he has seen Danny and Pancho together and how they interact."

Villano allows him to ask questions about Uncle Joe's observations of the two together.

"Is Francisco Martinez a member of the 27th Street Bloods?"
"Yes, sir."
"Is Francisco Martinez in the courtroom?"

Uncle Joe points to Pancho, who looks up briefly, then goes back to staring straight ahead into space.

"Does Francisco Martinez have any other names?"
"Pancho."
Uncle Joe describes how in May 1997 he was living in a rented house at 3165 Hawthorne Place with his son, Jose, who was nine at the time. His nephew Danny Martinez had asked to stay with him "about a month before all this."

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