Three days after Christmas 1998, there are few reminders of the holidays in Theresa Swinton's Denver apartment. Although her faith remains strong, she doesn't feel like celebrating. Her son Danny is sitting in a Jefferson County jail cell, awaiting trial for the gang rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl.
Brandaline Rose DuVall. The mention of her name evokes tears from Theresa, who's sitting on a couch in her living room, surrounded by dozens of photographs of family. "I pray to her all the time...try to tell her how sorry I am." She tilts her head and looks down, as though the floor might open up and reveal why this had happened. When she is in a contemplative mood, she has a habit of affirming her comments with a nod and a whispered "Yeah." Try to tell her how sorry I am...yeah.
Danny's trial is set for February. If convicted, he could be put to death. As ashamed and as angry as she is with her 25-year-old son, her oldest son, she doesn't want him to die. She wants him to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Even if it means abandoning his best friend, "Pancho," to his fate and then spending the rest of his life in prison.
"I admit part of that's selfish," she says. "I don't want to sit through a trial and listen to what they did to that poor little girl. And I want him to be alive for his two little boys.
"But even more, I don't want her, the girl's mother, to have to go through another trial. I've told him that, but he's in denial." She pauses, looks down again. "Yeah."
Danny is telling her he can't accept a plea bargain unless Panch--Francisco Martinez--lets him know it's okay. Francisco has already been convicted of first-degree murder and faces a death-penalty hearing in May. He told his lawyer, Dave Kaplan, that it was all right for Danny to save himself. But Danny doesn't trust lawyers--even Panch's lawyer--and he wants his childhood friend to pass the word through Danny's sister, Raquel, or his brother, Antonio.
"He says he doesn't want Panch to think he's leaving him to die all by himself," says Theresa. "I asked him when I visited him last week, 'What about my feelings? Don't they matter? And what about compassion for that girl's family?' And he said, 'Yes, but this is about how I feel, too. I can't say something to hurt Pancho.'"
Daniel "Bang" Martinez Jr., 25-year-old Francisco "Pancho" Martinez and seventeen-year-old Frank "Little Bang" Vigil Jr. are three of the seven members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods originally charged with the first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and second-degree kidnapping of Brandy DuVall. Her torn and bloody body was discovered next to a mountain stream west of Golden on May 31, 1997.
The four other members accepted plea bargains in exchange for their testimony. One of the government's two star witnesses, Samuel "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr., is the 25-year-old son of Theresa's sister. He confessed to the second-degree murders of not one but two young women to "save himself," Theresa says, "and the prosecutors bend over backward to talk about his 'redeeming qualities' and believe everything he says about what happened that night."
The murder has frayed a once close-knit family. The government's other key witness is Jose Martinez Jr., the brother of Theresa's first husband, Daniel Martinez Sr., and her boys' uncle.
Frank Vigil Jr.'s mother, Sally, was one of Theresa's best friends when the girls were growing up in Curtis Park. Sally's cousin, Pam, had been Jose Martinez's common-law wife; Sally married Pam's brother, Frank Vigil. And Theresa's brother, Oney, is married to Norma Quintana, another childhood friend of Theresa's and the sister of Sammy Quintana's father.
Theresa still considers Sally Vigil one of her dearest friends, although they aren't as close as they once were and Sally is "coming apart" with her middle son now sentenced to life in prison. Francisco's mother, Linda, who for years blamed Danny and Antonio, and therefore, Theresa, for her son's involvement in the gang, wouldn't talk to her for months after Francisco was arrested. "Now we share our grief," Theresa says.
But Theresa and her sister, Patty, who's divorced from Sammy's father, are estranged: They haven't seen or spoken to each other since the day Sammy was arrested for Brandy's murder. Theresa remains close to Norma but has "nothing to say" to Norma's brother, Sam.
And everybody is angry with Jose, "Uncle Joe," but not, as the prosecutors contend, because he's testifying. "Because he allowed our children to get this deep into trouble when he could have stopped it," says Theresa.
She knows that what happened to Brandy was horrible and that the killers, including her son, "should pay for what they did." But it doesn't seem fair.
Fifty-one-year-old Jose, who used to run with bikers and throw himself into bar brawls with his brothers, claims he was afraid of "the Bloods" that night. Now he's emerging from a witness-protection program to label their sons, his own nephew, "animals" and "devils." He may never be welcome, or even safe, in Denver again, but he will walk away unscathed. Jose wasn't charged with anything, including the destruction of evidence.
And Sammy. The prosecutors have said that when all of the trials are over, they will seek the maximum penalty of 96 years in prison for Samuel Quintana. But Theresa doesn't believe them. She thinks they will find a way to reward him for giving up the others.
Theresa has cut Sammy out of all her family photos. Still, it's hard for her to hate Sammy, who came to live with her and her three kids when his parents were divorcing, or to blame him for what he is doing. She just wishes she could believe he's doing it because his conscience bothers him.
Theresa points to a recent photograph of three young children playing--Danny's twin sons and Sammy's daughter. "All they've been told is that their fathers are in jail for something they did," she says. "But they see each other all the time. They don't know what's going on. We take Danny's sons to the jail to see him, and she goes right along." If the boys are visiting Sammy's daughter when that family goes to see Sammy in jail, Danny's boys go, too. "The boys love Sammy and write him letters. And we all love his little girl...yeah."
It isn't that she is trying to excuse Danny. "He made his own choices." But no one offered him a second-degree-murder plea agreement.
Then again, Danny took off when it became clear the police were closing in. "I begged him not to run," Theresa says. "I told him, 'Let's give it up to God and go face this together.' But he ran anyway."
Six months later, after Danny was finally caught, he balked at a deal that would have dropped a potential death penalty in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole. Danny wouldn't go for it because the prosecution demanded that he write a statement describing not only his role in Brandy's murder, but that of the others. Danny wouldn't snitch.
Nor is he now accepting responsibility. "He says he was drunk and doesn't remember," Theresa says. "He says he can't read the transcripts from Frank's and Pancho's trial...that he tries, but he can't. I tell him he has to if he's determined to go through with a trial. But he won't talk about it.
"He's real down on himself. I tell him, 'The Lord won't judge you for one incident. You have to look back and reflect that you were a very good person at other times in your life and ask for forgiveness.' But he's confused. I got a letter from him today that he probably wrote on Christmas. He talked about his sister visiting him and this and that, then at the end he wrote, 'I want to come home.'"
Danny still thinks there's a chance he can beat the rap. His lawyers tell him he's "fantasizing." Little Frankie didn't beat it. Pancho didn't beat it. It didn't take their juries much longer than the time needed to fill out the conviction papers before they returned with guilty verdicts. But Danny wants to believe that someday he will be free.
Theresa stops to wipe a tear off her cheek. "Things are shitty for him," she says, "but nothing compared to what that little girl went through. There is no excuse. I feel for that family and think of her mom all the time." The mother who will be sitting on the other side of the courtroom when Danny goes on trial.
Theresa's friends have tried to prepare her for Danny's trial by feeding her bits of information about Brandy's final hours. But they're worried about her emotional state and have tiptoed around the worst of it. So Theresa prepares herself in ways she would have otherwise avoided. She reads the transcripts from the trials of Pancho Martinez and Frank Vigil so that nothing that is said will shock her. She forces herself to watch movies that are violent to women so she'll become numb to brutality, just as she believes an entire generation of urban kids have been numbed by violent films and rap music.
"I read horror and murder stories," she says. "I don't like them, but Danny's lawyers are afraid of what my reaction will be in the courtroom. They don't want me making any public displays."
Neither does she. In fact, Theresa would rather not go out in public at all. There are days when she doesn't want to get out of bed, much less go to work--or much less than that, go visit Danny and try to keep his spirits up while hers drag along the bottom.
At times Theresa feels nearly overwhelmed by guilt. Not just for what her son and his friends did to Brandy DuVall. But for whatever deficiencies she had as a mother, for the lifestyle she exposed her boys to that made it impossible for her to fight the gangs for the souls of her sons. If there is anything to be gained in all of this, it's that some young mother might hear about this tragedy and realize that what she does in front of her children does matter.
She thinks back to when she was a young girl, living in the house at 2727 California, the house where Danny and Antonio--Bang and Boom--first gained their gang notoriety. Their grandmother's house, for which they named their particular branch of the CMG. The Deuce-Seven. If she could just go back, back to when her boys were young, when she could have changed their lives--saved Danny's life.
Antonio somehow walked away from his criminal past, graduated from art school and got a job at a fancy tattoo parlor in another city. He works hard supporting himself, his girlfriend and her son and also sends money back to Denver to support his daughter. But to move on with his life, he had to distance himself from the brother he loved and from Francisco, whom he loved like a brother.
Theresa won't let Antonio come back for the trial.
Bad enough that she will have to sit hour after hour on the hard wooden benches of the courtroom, staring at the back of her other son, the little boy who loved people and couldn't stand to be cooped up indoors. Danny. She loves him still and can't abandon him, no matter what he did.
Even if he participated in the rape and then stood on the hillside with Little Frankie, watching while Pancho and Sammy stabbed Brandy dozens of times, then threw her like a piece of trash over an embankment. "The law says that makes him just as guilty, a consequence for their total behavior that night," she says. "But at least I won't have to sit there and hear that my son did the killing."
It's a small consolation on this night, three days after Christmas. "But it helps me feel not quite as bad," she says, then whispers, "Yeah."
May 31, 1997
It was a great day to drive through the mountains. There were no clouds in the thin slice of sky that showed between the narrow walls of Clear Creek Canyon, and the sun was high enough to peek over the edge of the high rock precipices, warming the early afternoon air.
Lance Butler had the windows down as he guided his car along the curves of two-lane Highway 6, a few miles west of Golden. He was enjoying showing the scenery to a visiting friend. They were a couple of clean-cut college grads on their way to Central City for a day of gambling and beer.
A mile or so past the point where Tunnel 1 burrows through a granite shoulder, the friend looked across the highway at the tumbling, rushing waters of Clear Creek. He suggested they stop and dip their feet.
"It'll be cold," Butler warned, as he drove across the highway and pulled into a gravel turnoff at mile marker 296.5. They got out and stretched, then walked over to a narrow swath of grasses. Just ahead, the ground suddenly dropped away to the stream thirty feet below. The embankment was a steep jumble of jagged boulders, too rugged to climb down.
The friend was walking along the edge, looking for another way to the water, when he pulled up short and pointed. "There's a body down there."
Butler thought his friend was joking. But he saw the blue of a pair of jeans and then the body, bare from the waist up, wedged in the rocks almost at the water's edge.
Butler and his friend thought it looked like the body of a small man. They moved along the rim until they were directly above it and were trying to decide if they should get closer still when they saw a dark red stain on the grass. It was a pool of congealing blood a couple of feet in diameter.
They ran back toward the highway and started flagging cars. This was a busy Saturday, and the highway was jammed with casino buses and other vehicles full of hopeful gamblers. Still, it took several minutes of frantic waving before someone pulled over.
The driver tried to call out on his cellular telephone but couldn't get a signal past the high canyon walls. More cars stopped, and other drivers dialed out but couldn't get through. In the meantime, tourists walked back and forth along the edge, trying to get a look at the body.
Finally, everyone decided to leave and find help. "When you get to a telephone, call the police," Butler yelled as he ran to his car.
A few minutes later, the Jefferson County Sheriff's dispatcher fielded several calls from Central City about a body and "a lot of blood" in Clear Creek Canyon.
Diane Obbema was the first deputy to arrive at the mile 296.5 turnoff. She got out of her patrol car, took a few steps to the edge and immediately saw the body. Then she began picking her way down through the boulders to see if she could help.
The body belonged to a girl who was past help. She was lying on her back, her face turned to the sky, her eyes closed. Her head was nearly in the water, her bare feet pointed up the hill. A pair of silver-colored handcuffs bound her hands behind her back. She was covered in blood.
Looking back up the hill, Obbema could see a wide trail of blood beginning partway down the slope, smearing rocks, gravel and plants as it led to the body. The girl had not died where the blood was pooled at the top of the embankment. She'd fought to live--falling and getting up, then falling and rising again, until she fell one final time.
The amount of blood shocked the thirteen-year sheriff's veteran. There were places where it soaked into the ground between the rocks, then came out again lower on the slope.
Obbema scrambled back up to her car and the radio. Soon she was joined by sheriff's investigators, including Allen Simmons, the detective who would take the lead in the case, crime-scene technicians and an ambulance crew. Television teams arrived and filmed the body of a young, unidentified female being removed from the river's edge in a black body bag.
Simmons was there when Dr. Ben Galloway conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist had performed approximately 9,000 autopsies during his career. Few were as disturbing as this one. The girl was young, barely a teenager, only five feet tall and a hundred pounds. She'd been savagely attacked.
The pathologist noted a bruise to the left side of her face that appeared to have been made with a fist. There was a large bruise on her chest, as well as other bruises and abrasions on her arms and legs, which indicated that she'd struggled.
Galloway counted 28 stab wounds, all made with a sharp, single-edged knife. Some were to her chest, but most, including the fatal wounds, were to her back and neck. Her carotid artery and jugular vein had been pierced: She had bled to death.
The most horrifying wounds, though, were not the ones that had killed her. There was an obvious bite mark on her left breast. Her anus and rectum were badly bruised, purposely cut by a sharp blade.
The last night of the girl's life had been hell.
It took until Sunday, June 1, to identify her as Brandaline Rose DuVall. Brandy's mother had arrived at the Jefferson County coroner's office looking for a missing daughter--and found her on a cold steel table. Wake up, baby. Wake up.
Brandy had died two months shy of her fifteenth birthday.
Theresa was six when her mother left her father and moved with her seven children--five girls and two boys--into her grandparents' home near the corner of 27th and California streets. 2727 California.
Theresa's grandparents, the Rodartes, were strict. They had both come to this country from Mexico many years before. Grandfather Rodarte would only speak Spanish, never applied for citizenship and didn't work, except in his backyard vegetable garden. Grandmother Rodarte, who bore eighteen children, was a nurse and very religious; she went every day to pray at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and belonged to the Legion of Mary.
Although the Rodartes taught their children Spanish, they made no attempt to instruct their grandchildren. Many years later, when it mattered to her, Theresa asked her mother why she and her brothers and sisters weren't taught Spanish. "Because everybody thought children who spoke Spanish were slower, or dumb immigrants," her mother replied. "And it just caused trouble for them at school." But Theresa always suspected it had more to do with the adults wanting a "secret language" they could use in front of the kids.
As a child, Theresa thought she lived in the best neighborhood in the world. People took pride in their homes. They mowed the grass, battled dandelions and raked leaves that fell every autumn from the old shade trees that lined the blocks. It seemed like everyone planted gardens--flowers in front and vegetables in the back.
The collection of small stucco and brick homes had seen a succession of immigrants come and go--Germans, Japanese, Mexicans, blacks. By the time Theresa moved there, it was a mostly black neighborhood, with a strong contingent of Mexican families. But if the kids usually congregated in racially distinct groups, they still got along with each other.
None of the kids seemed to notice that they were what other people would consider poor. Most of what they did was free, anyway--climbing trees, swinging at the playground at 25th and Stout, walking to the park to catch crawdads in the summer and to the ice rink outside the downtown May D&F store to skate in the winter.
Despite the poverty, there wasn't a lot of crime--at least not crime that affected the children. Five Points, the legendary hub of black cultural and social life in Denver, was still jumping a few blocks to the east. There were no bums shuffling down the sidewalks, no crack dealers standing in the shadows. What drug addicts there were stayed out of sight. Sometimes the kids would hear rumors about a pimp shooting another pimp or beating up a prostitute. Maybe someone's junkie husband, son or brother would overdose, necessitating a call for an ambulance and sparking a rash of gossip. But it was the grownups doing the crimes, not the kids. Not yet.
And there were always lots of kids. Theresa was as close as a sister to some of her neighborhood friends, especially Sally and Norma. As the girls grew older, they'd flirt with the boys and size them up for the future. Norma's brother, Sam Quintana. Frank Vigil, a distant cousin of Sally's. And the five Martinez brothers: Rudi, Jose, Tommy and the twins, Dan and Ben.
Soon climbing trees gave way to hanging out with the other teenagers, kicking back to Motown music blaring over car stereos, drinking beer and smoking pot. A favorite spot was down at the Martinez brothers' house, where the boys were always working on their cars.
Some of the boys were in gangs that took their names from where they lived. They were the 23rd Street or Curtis Park or the Projects. No Bloods. No Crips. And no vice or money involved. If a lowrider drove slowly through the neighborhood, it was to show off, not a prelude to a shooting. Gangs were all about fighting with rivals over dates, insults and street corners. And it wasn't just the boys doing the scraping.
In the late Sixties, the best place to find action was at the weekend dances sponsored by the Crusade for Justice. Corky Gonzales and other Chicano activists had taken over a huge old building on Downing Street, where they tried to bring together Mexican kids from different parts of town. The Crusade workers wanted to promote unity. What they got were melees out in the parking lot.
The guys would fight over turf. The girls would fight over the guys. Everyone knew there would be fights, no matter how much the Crusaders complained that they had too much in common to try to beat each other up. They just didn't understand it was all in good fun.
Theresa and her friends counted on those dances for entertainment. They even dressed for the evening's combat, reminding each other not to wear clothes they cared about. Nothing with buttons. No dangling earrings...not if you wanted to keep your earlobes from being torn off.
The dances took place close to Theresa's neighborhood, which meant the kids from the north and west sides of Denver were the invaders and at a disadvantage. The local girls would mess with the guys from another part of town just to get the other girls riled. There'd be a fight, the police or the neighborhood adults would show up to break it up, and everyone would scatter. All through the week, they'd proudly display their bruises, black eyes and scratches and look forward to the next dance.
But the Crusade for Justice workers were right about one thing. They did have something in common: Nobody had much money. When they did have cash, it went for groceries or, when the girls started having babies, to buy their kids diapers and shoes. And in that neighborhood, the girls started having babies when they were hardly more than children themselves.
Theresa was no different. She was a wild thing who rebelled against her strict mother and grandparents. In their house, drinking and cigarettes were forbidden. So was cussing. So she stayed out until all hours drinking and carousing, hiding when she'd hear her mother walking up and down the street late at night demanding in a loud voice that Theresa come home. More than once, she woke up in the closet of a friend's bedroom with her hand still wrapped around a bottle.
Big-breasted and pretty, Theresa looked like a woman long before she was one. When she was twelve, one of the Martinez brothers, sixteen-year-old Danny, took an interest in her. She lied and told him she was fifteen, and the chase was on.
Danny wasn't very big, but he already had a reputation for taking what he wanted and not letting anybody stand in his way. What he wanted was Theresa. What she wanted was someone who would promise to take care of her...and get her out of the crowded house at 2727 California. She thought she was in love.
Theresa's mother had never remarried. She'd scraped and saved to raise her kids on welfare and never went out except to work after her youngest, Jimmy, was old enough to go to school. Her grandparents slept in separate rooms and seemed to speak to each other only when they had to. There was always plenty of food sitting on the stove, but the family rarely sat down to dinner together.
Ever since she could remember, Theresa had envied Danny's family life and adored his parents. She thought they were the perfect couple. She never saw them fight or even argue. He called her "Mama" and she called him "Daddy." If they were watching television and she noticed him starting to nod off, she'd say, "Daddy, you're sleepy, go to bed." And he'd reply, "Not till you do, Mama." That's the sort of marriage she wanted someday.
Danny's father, Joe, was a hardworking roofer, a good man, fair with his five boys and three girls. He loved to laugh and wasn't afraid to demonstrate his love for his family. Danny's mother, Ida, was a sweet, caring woman who seemed to believe that it was her responsibility to feed any kid in the neighborhood who happened to be there around mealtime. All the family members spent a good deal of time hugging each other.
The Martinezes treated Theresa like a little sister, but Danny had other ideas. She was fifteen when they had their first child, Raquel; they married when she was sixteen and pregnant with Danny Jr.
After they married, the young couple moved across the street into a fourplex. Danny worked for his dad. When he came home hot and tired, she'd have a bath ready--then every night they'd go across the street to his parents' home for dinner.
Meals were a crowded, noisy, laughing affair. Everyone--the parents, their boys, their girlfriends, wives, children and assorted neighborhood visitors--would sit down at the table to eat. They never knew what they were going to get. During lean times it might just be meatloaf, but there were always hot green chiles and a big stack of homemade tortillas fresh off the stove.
It was a rough-and-tumble household. Joe smoked huge cigars, and Ida puffed cigarette after cigarette. They all drank beer. Especially the boys, who would get drunk and wrestle around the house until they were told to take it outside. A favorite pastime was to go to a bar and start a brawl: One minute everything would be quiet, the next all hell would break loose.
Theresa loved it. She'd married into the sort of family she had always wanted and thought her children would grow up safe and well-loved in the arms of that family.
June 2, 1997
The day after Brandy DuVall's body was identified by her mother, Jeffco sheriff's investigators Doug Moore and Jeffrey Pevler visited Patrice Bowman. The fifteen-year-old black girl was one of Brandy's best friends and had been with her on the night of May 30.
Patrice admitted that she and Brandy had smoked marijuana and drunk most of a six-pack of beer, which a man they met at a bus stop had purchased for them in exchange for one of the beers. Brandy had left a little after 11:30 p.m., headed for a bus stop on South Federal Boulevard where she could catch a ride back to her grandmother's house. She'd been wearing a red Chicago Bull's jersey, black shorts and red, black and white Nike running shoes.
After talking with Patrice, the investigators were five hours closer to Brandy's murder but still had many unanswered questions. Where were her clothes? The light-blue jeans she'd been wearing when her body was found were several sizes too big for her, and otherwise she was nude.
But the trail dead-ended at the bus stop on South Federal and Florida. They hoped someone who'd seen her there could narrow the time gap still further. Maybe that someone had even glimpsed the face of Brandy's killer.
Federal was a busy thoroughfare even at that time of night. A lot of teens, some of them homeless and on their own, hung out on corners and in parking lots. On a Saturday night, lowriders and gang members alike might be cruising the street, showing off and looking for action. Someone must have seen something.
On June 10, investigator Simmons received a call from an informant, who said that a man named Jose Martinez had told him that Brandy DuVall had been assaulted by the Bloods at his home on the night of May 30, 1997.
On June 12, Simmons and investigator Ralph Gallegos contacted Jose Martinez at the house he rented at 3165 West Hawthorne Place in Adams County. Martinez quickly confessed to having been the unwilling witness to the rape and torture of a teenage girl. She'd been brought to his house by a Bloods gang member he knew only as "Baby G" and four others he didn't know at all. Already there, getting drunk and high, were his nephew Daniel "Bang" Martinez Jr., Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, Frank "Little Bang" Vigil Jr. and a boy named Zig Zag.
The gang had "the devil" in them that night, Jose Martinez said, and he'd been unable to stop what they had done to "that poor little girl."
The girl was still alive when they'd finally left his house before dawn, begging to be taken to a hospital. After that, he'd cleaned up his house and found the girl's clothes, as well as her high-school identification card. The name on the card was the same one he'd heard later on the television news.
Simmons asked Martinez if he'd kept any of Brandy's personal effects that would help corroborate his story in court. Martinez shook his head. His nephew Danny and the boy he knew as Zig Zag had come over and taken the girl's things, including the identification card, a B-shaped diamond pendant and the bloody mattress of the bed where she had been raped and tortured.
Nothing? the investigator asked.
Martinez gave in. He went to his kitchen and removed something from under the sink. It was a small prayer card. He told the investigators he'd kept it because he liked it and thought he might need something if the police ever showed up asking about the girl.
Now the Jeffco investigators had suspects, but some of them were known only by their nicknames. So Simmons went to talk to Greg Romero, one of the detectives assigned to the Denver Police Department Gang Unit.
Romero identified Zig Zag as 23-year-old Samuel Merced Quintana Jr. Zig Zag, along with 23-year-old Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, 24-year-old Daniel "Bang" Martinez Jr. and 22-year-old David Warren, also known as "Baby G," were all members of the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods, specifically a subset that called itself the Deuce-Seven. They were drug dealers suspected of a number of shootings, Romero said, but had done little in the way of jail time to show for it. The DPD's gang unit had Danny Martinez and his younger brother, Antonio, also known as "Boom," pegged as the leaders of the Deuce-Seven along with their first cousin, Sammy Quintana; Francisco Martinez, no relation, was immediately below them in the gang hierarchy.
The Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods had started out as a black gang near 104th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. They'd shown up in Denver in the mid-Eighties, and their power had been growing ever since. The CMG Bloods split Denver by race and territory. CMG on the east side of town was predominantly black and claimed the Park Hill area down to Aurora and into Montbello; they'd turned some neighborhoods into battle zones in their perpetual fight with the Crips, the first of the two big California gangs to bring their guns and crack-cocaine trade to Denver.
CMG on the west side had come along later. It was mostly Latino, although by 1997 the gang had white, Asian and black members. Generally, they claimed anything west of downtown to Lakewood and south into Bear Valley.
The police believed that both CMG gangs cooperated in their various criminal activities. (By comparison, black and Latino Crips gangs in Denver rarely shared anything other than a name and an affinity for the color blue. In fact, they were often violent rivals.)
The Metro Area Gang Task Force had been after the Martinez brothers for some time without much luck. Witnesses to assaults tended to take off or recant; the few charges that stuck had been dismissed by the courts. Antonio had a non-fatal shooting on his juvenile record, and the brothers were both popped on a marijuana charge that hadn't come to much. Otherwise, nada.
Now, however, their run seemed to be coming to an end. Danny had an arrest warrant out for failing to participate in a court-ordered drug-and-alcohol rehab program. And, Romero said, his unit was working with a Lakewood Police Department detective, Scott Richardson, who'd been trying for a year to pin the July 1996 murder of a young woman on Samuel Quintana and two other Deuce-Seven members, Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas and his brother, Gerard.
The Denver police had had better luck busting up the Park Hill CMG. In November 1996, a Denver grand jury had indicted ten members for running an "illicit enterprise" that included murder, drug trafficking and other violent acts. Five of the ten were charged with the murder of Eric Thomas, a Crip who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in October 1993. Those 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.
In May 1997, seven CMG members accepted plea bargains that included dropping the murder charge in connection with Thomas's killing. Denver authorities hailed the convictions as the destruction of the Park Hill CMG.
And now, if the Jeffco investigators' suspicions about who'd killed Brandy DuVall were correct, CMG on the west side was self-destructing. Her death didn't even have the twisted logic of a gangland hit. It wasn't "business"; it was pure brutality. Her body was dumped where it was likely to be discovered; there were plenty of witnesses. Brandy's murderers were practically asking for a date with a lethal injection, compliments of the state.
Jose Martinez was told there'd be no charges if he cooperated and testified. When he hesitated, saying he'd be killed by the gang, Jeffco investigators promised to put him in an out-of-state witness-protection program.
Jose agreed. On June 14, 1997, as the police listened in, he placed a telephone call to Sammy Quintana. "Uncle Joe," as he was known to the gang members, began the conversation by asking Sammy why he thought the police had come to his house.
"What are you talkin' about?" Quintana asked.
"You know what I'm talkin' about," Martinez replied.
"Hey, I know what the fuck you're talkin' about," Quintana growled, "but what are you talkin' about?...They over at your house or what?"
"You know why they're here...I told you to leave that girl alone."
"Hey," Quintana warned, "don't start speakin' no shit."
"You got me into trouble," Martinez responded. "Now you got to get me out of it."
Quintana paused, then said, "All right...Call Danny boy." He gave Martinez a pager number and hung up.
Martinez paged his nephew. When Danny Martinez called back, he was wary. He asked several times if his uncle was with the "po-pos," the police. He wanted to know where Jose was and, when his uncle wouldn't answer, wanted to know why he wouldn't.
Danny Martinez denied having anything to do with a girl at his uncle's house. "There was a bitch there with Zeebo. There was a bitch there with Pancho. There was another bitch that came, and there was another bitch there," he said. "I don't even fuckin' know who they were, and I never seen them in my fuckin' life, and I'll never see them again, probably."
After hanging up, Jose Martinez identified Danny Martinez, Francisco Martinez, Samuel Quintana and David Warren from a photo lineup. A couple of days later he picked a photograph of then-sixteen-year-old Frank Vigil Jr.--Little Bang--out of another lineup.
On June 15, a new informant told Jeffco authorities that he'd been present when several members of the Deuce-Seven CMG sexually assaulted Brandy DuVall. He'd run from the house but assumed the same group had later killed her. This informant added two names to the list of suspects: Maurice "Trap" Warren, the eighteen-year-old brother of David, and nineteen-year-old Jacob "Smiley" Casados.
The Jeffco investigators felt they had enough to move. Sammy Quintana and Frank Vigil were arrested first, followed soon after by Francisco Martinez, who was already in the Denver jail on an unrelated drug charge. A short time later, Maurice Warren and Jacob Casados were picked up. All were charged with ten criminal acts against Brandy DuVall, including first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, sexual assault on a child and second-degree kidnapping.
Still, Jeffco investigators didn't have the whole story. They didn't know who'd actually taken Brandy to the mountains, who'd stabbed her to death.
Then Sammy Quintana started talking.
Quintana was facing double trouble. Shortly after his arrest for the DuVall killing, Detective Richardson had charged him and the Ornelas brothers with first-degree murder for the July 15, 1996, death of nineteen-year-old Venus Montoya. That meant he was facing the possibility of two death-penalty murder trials.
To investigator Moore, Quintana admitted his part in the brutality against Brandy DuVall but laid the worst of it, including the stabbing, on Francisco Martinez. Taking a deal offered by the Jeffco District Attorney's Office, he pleaded guilty to two second-degree murder charges, each carrying the possibility of 48 years in prison. In exchange, he agreed to testify against the other defendants in both trials.
Zig Zag's confession inspired a flurry of snitching. David Warren was arrested and joined his brother, Maurice, and Casados in pleading guilty to first-degree sexual assault. The other charges were dropped in exchange for their agreement to testify "truthfully" against whomever decided to go to trial.
At the time, that meant Francisco Martinez--District Attorney Dave Thomas had already announced he would seek the death penalty for Martinez--and Frank Vigil Jr., who would be tried as an adult.
The last suspect, Danny Martinez, was on the run. He wouldn't be apprehended until January 1, 1998, five days before jury selection was set to begin for the trial of Frank Vigil.
January 6, 1998
Jolene Martinez and her fiance, Joe Gonzalez, glance nervously at the crowd moving through the lobby of the Jefferson County courthouse. Jury selection is under way on the fifth floor for the murder trial of Frank Vigil, and they've heard rumors that the Bloods will assassinate anyone who dares appear as a prosecution witness.
The couple has been subpoenaed by the district attorney to report to the courthouse. And now all faces, especially Hispanic and black faces, look hostile. Anyone dressed in anything remotely resembling gang attire is a threat. A bulge beneath a winter coat could be a gun.
"I don't know why they want me," Jolene moans. "My daughter was there that night, staying with my dad. But she's only ten, and she didn't see nothin' or hear nothin'."
Her dad is Jose Martinez, "Uncle Joe." The defendant's mother, Sally Vigil, and her mother, Pam, who was Jose's common-law wife, are cousins.
Through her father, Danny Martinez Jr. and Antonio Martinez--Bang and Boom--are also first cousins. Making the whole thing even more complicated, Danny's father, Danny Sr., used to live with Sally Vigil and helped raise "Little Frankie"--the sixteen-year-old now on trial for murder.
It was fear of the gang, including members of his own family, that kept her father quiet until the police came knocking, Jolene says. And it was fear that kept Jose Martinez from doing something, anything, to save Brandy DuVall that night.
"Dad didn't have a phone," Jolene says. "And he couldn't leave to go get help because he had the kids. He was afraid that if he left, they might kill the kids, too. This has made him sick. He's all tore up and has to take nitroglycerin for his heart. He writes poetry about that little girl. He's always reading his Bible now...He calls her his 'little angel.'"
Her father was asleep with his son and her daughter when he woke up to noises in his home. At first, Jolene says, he thought that whatever was going on with that girl in a back bedroom was consensual. But it didn't take long before he realized he was mistaken.
"He said to me, 'They looked like they had the devil in them.' They were acting crazy, and no matter how much he screamed or yelled at them to take her home--she was begging for her life, you know--they wouldn't listen to him."
"Like animals," Joe Gonzales agrees. "Nobody thinks much about it when these guys in gangs kill each other. They even think of it like they're soldiers, fighting for each other and their 'hood. Only now they're killing civilians. There's no honor. It's sick--killing children."
"At first," Jolene interjects, "I wanted to blame drugs. How else can you explain what they did to that little girl? They just tore her up. But they don't do drugs. They get drunk and smoke some pot, but nothin' like cocaine. They sell it, but they don't do it."
Jolene finds it all very upsetting. She has known Frank Vigil Jr. since he was a little boy. "He was a good little boy, very cute," she remembers. "He's still a little boy. But I hadn't seen him for years...when I did, he was dressed in gang clothes."
She has known Danny Martinez all of her life. "Everybody liked him," she says. "Even when he got older and came over to my house, he was respectful, polite. You'd never know he was in a gang. He was always over at my dad's, who was like another father to him. But I think the money changed Danny--all that money from sellin' drugs. He always had wads of cash he'd throw around. If my dad didn't have any money, Danny'd whip out a few twenties and just give it to him.
"Money is power, and he and his brother, Antonio, had a lot of power on the streets. It's weird. They wanted respect, but the only way they got respect was through fear and guns--they always had guns on them."
Now fear and anger "has tore us all apart," she says of the extended family. "Just ripped us like someone stickin' a knife in your stomach. Brother not talkin' to brother. My dad wanted to take my little brother over to his grandmother's house, but she told him not to because it wasn't safe. Nobody goes to see each other anymore. It's like the kids don't even have grandparents."
Jolene's voice drops as she looks around to see who might be standing nearby. "And there's a contract out on my dad," she says quietly. "His own family turned their backs on him because he was talkin' to the police.
"But what could he do? What kind of choice did he have? He says he would die if he had to keep it to himself. He wasn't the one who made them do it...and that little girl needed peace. She didn't ask for what happened to her."
As Jolene starts to cry, her fiance wraps a protective arm around her shoulders. She shakes her head sadly as she explains that she, too, is afraid--the gang may want to get at her to shut up her father, or just to retaliate. She and Joe will probably have to move out of state in order to feel safe again.
"We have family here," she says, wiping at her eyes. "And it's expensive to move. Until we can afford it, we'll just have to watch out."
Jolene and Joe turn and walk through the security checkpoint. They head to the fifth floor, where they meet Ingrid Bakke, one of the prosecutors in the case, outside the courtroom.
After all that, Bakke tells them that they probably won't have to testify but that they should be available if they're needed. Relieved, the two hurry back to the elevators before Bakke can change her mind.
As Bakke turns and walks back into the courtroom where jury selection is under way, she passes a small Hispanic woman sitting on a wooden bench with two teenage boys. The woman's eyes are red and shiny from crying; the boys look defensive and frightened.
They are Frank Vigil's mother and brothers. "We don't want to comment," Sally Vigil says before a reporter can ask a question.
When it's your son, or your brother, sitting in the defendant's chair, you are expected to assume some share of the guilt. There must have been some lack of parental guidance...maybe even some genetic predisposition to evil. Everything about the trial reinforces that guilt. While members of the victim's family are comforted by victim advocates, given pillows to ease their time on the hard benches, you're left on your own to sit and stare at the back of your son or brother, lost in private thoughts. It was them, the bad ones, who led him astray. Please, God, let the jury understand that.
Finally the jury is seated. The lawyers will give their opening statements the next morning.
Sally Vigil and her boys stay close together as they move off down the hall. They look like they expect someone to attack them.
By the time Theresa gave birth to Antonio, two years after Danny Jr., the old neighborhood was beginning to lose its charm. Others thought so, too.
Her friend Norma had married her brother Oney and moved to Oregon. Her sister Patty, who'd always wanted more than the neighborhood could provide, decided she'd find it with Samuel Merced Quintana, Norma's brother.
Sam was the responsible one of the neighborhood boys, always working, trying to get ahead. He and Patty married when they were both sixteen and had Samuel Jr. a year after Danny was born. A daughter had followed a couple of years later, after they had moved out to the suburbs. Except for special family events, they rarely returned to the neighborhood.
Samuel Quintana Sr. had always wanted to be a Denver police officer but couldn't get on. There was an offer from the San Diego police, but Patty had a good job as a secretary and wouldn't leave. So he took a position with the Denver Sheriff's Department as a deputy at the jail.
Not everyone left the area around 27th and California, though. Sally stuck around and married Frank Vigil. All of Theresa's other friends were married and/or pregnant, and they'd go over to the playground at 25th and Stout and push their kids on the same swings they'd played on themselves just a few years before.
Theresa was beginning to wonder what she'd missed by having children so young. Especially when Big Dan, as he was called after their son was born, began spending less and less time at home.
"A lot of guys his age were single, and he wanted to be free like them," she says. "He'd disappear for days and forget that he had a wife and kids. He made good money working for his dad, but he quit and started getting involved with drugs and people I didn't want to be around."
Theresa herself was no angel. She and her girlfriends were still on the wild side, only now they took turns watching each other's kids so they could go out and party.
Although Theresa and Dan Sr. had only fought twice--physically, that is, and she was nearly his size and just as tough--they argued all the time. Theresa began to dream of seeing something more of the world. Raquel was four, Danny three and Antonio one when the opportunity presented itself.
She was twenty and working as a bartender at Lowry Air Force Base when she caught the eye of Sergeant Bill Rollins, a black airman. Off duty, he wore nice suits and alligator shoes and drove a nice white Monte Carlo. He was just plain jazzy.
What's more, he loved her kids and he loved her. When he was reassigned to an air base in California, he asked Theresa to pack up the children and go with him. She agreed and, as soon as her divorce from Big Dan was finalized, they married. On the base, Theresa and the kids settled into a solid, middle-class existence. She got a job cleaning houses and thought that at last she'd lost that wild streak.
Bill was a good role model for the boys--honest, hardworking, well-read. And he loved having sons, taking them fishing and camping, coaching their basketball and baseball teams. He was patient, especially with Danny, who could have frustrated Job the way he was forever taking things apart. Instead of getting mad, Bill would buy Danny toys that came unassembled and let him play with all the parts to his heart's content. Then he'd warn the boy, "Once we put it together, you'd better not take it apart."
The children blossomed. Raquel was everything Theresa thought a good daughter should be. And she looked after her two baby brothers like a mother duck--until they grew old enough to start looking after her.
The boys' personalities were as different as the sun and moon. Danny was always up at first light, dressed and out of the house before the rest of his family stirred. He hated being indoors, cooped up. It made him nervous--he'd bite his nails and couldn't sit still.
Danny was the athlete, always playing ball or some other game. He was a natural leader, the one picked to be the captain of his baseball and basketball teams. He needed to be around people. And other kids seemed content to follow his example: The boys wanted to be like him, and the little girls wanted to be near him. He was generous to a fault. If another child wanted a toy he was playing with, he would gladly hand it over.
Antonio, on the other hand, was what his mother called "stingy." He hated sharing his toys and found little girls "bothersome." If he couldn't be with his big brother, he preferred to stay in his room with a pen and paper. Left alone, he would draw for hours.
The kids were close. Danny was very protective of Raquel, even though she was older. No one was going to hurt his sister and get away with it. And they were loyal.
There was no better illustration of that than the Christmas Theresa took the kids to Coos Bay, Oregon, to visit her sister-in-law, Norma. Her brother was away, working on a crab boat, so it was just the women and their children.
With Christmas approaching, Theresa took pains to hide the kids' presents in the garage. But she came home one day and discovered that someone had been into them.
She called the boys in and demanded to know which one was the culprit. Neither would admit to it or point a finger at the other. She took a belt to both of them, but they still wouldn't talk.
"Then go to your room and stay there until whoever did it admits it," she yelled.
An hour later, Antonio came out. "If we tell you, will you let us both come out to watch TV?"
Theresa agreed to the terms. A few moments later, Danny emerged and admitted he was the one.
She looked at Antonio. "You let me whup you for something you didn't do?" she asked, shaking her head. He shrugged, and she realized that the thought of telling on his brother had never occurred to him. He wouldn't even let Danny confess until he'd secured a plea bargain for television rights for them both.
Danny later told her that he'd suggested they tell her the truth at the beginning, so that Antonio wouldn't be punished. But Antonio wouldn't go for it. They were brothers: Whatever needed to be faced, they would face together.
It was a good life, but Theresa still wanted more. Before she'd moved to California, she had once mentioned to Bill and her mother that she might want to join the Air Force. They'd laughed, since she was never one to follow orders and would probably end up in the brig for insubordination.
But in 1979 she decided to join anyway, even though Bill was against it. She packed up the kids, saying she wanted to visit her mother. Back in Denver, Theresa went to the Air Force recruitment office and passed the written and physical examinations for placement in the reserves. Only then did she call Bill and tell him. It would mean leaving the boys with Big Dan for six months while she went through basic and then trained to be a flight medical technician.
Bill was angry but quickly resigned himself to the fact that the deed was already done. "Just keep your mouth shut when somebody gives you an order," he warned.
After Theresa completed her classes, she returned to Denver and met up with Bill, who drove the family back to California.
Theresa eventually applied for active duty and was lucky enough to be assigned to the same base as Bill. She enjoyed flying and seeing different parts of the country.
Unfortunately, by now she'd discovered she enjoyed something else: injecting methamphetamine. It would destroy her marriage to Bill and, many years later, compound the guilt she was feeling over the death of a fourteen-year-old girl named Brandy DuVall.
January 7, 1998
Frank Vigil Jr. shuffles into the courtroom, shackles around his ankles, hands cuffed behind his back. A large, ill-fitting suit coat can't disguise the bulk of the shock control belt, capable of sending 50,000 volts of electricity into his body, fastened around his thin hips.
Vigil half-smiles at his mother and brothers sitting in the second row behind the defense table. They smile back, weakly. The exchange is brief, and then Vigil's face goes blank as he turns away.
The first row behind the defense table has been marked off-limits by court security personnel. They don't want to take any chances, considering the rumors of death threats and gang retaliation. But even without barriers, the first several rows on the defense side remain virtually empty, while the three long pews behind the prosecution table are full. No one--not the media, not veteran courtroom watchers, not the casually curious--wants to sit on the side of a defendant charged with such a heinous crime.
The family and friends of the murdered girl take up most of the first two rows on the prosecution side. Sitting in front is Brandy DuVall's mother, Angela Metzger, slim and attractive; beside her sits her husband, Carl. Next to them, Paul Vasquez, Brandy's maternal grandfather, inserts earplugs and pats the knee of the sad, tiny woman next to him: Rose, his wife, from whom Brandy received her middle name.
Deputy district attorneys Hal Sargent, Mark Randall and Ingrid Bakke sit at the prosecution table, nearest to the jury box. With Sargent in the lead, the same three will stay together to prosecute the cases against Vigil and his co-defendants, Francisco Martinez and Danny Martinez Jr., in separate trials. Seated with the prosecutors are Jeffco investigators Simmons and Moore.
The deputy who escorted Vigil into the courtroom unlocks the handcuffs. He stands behind the sixteen-year-old until he takes a seat next to his lawyer, Randy Canney.
Vigil doesn't look dangerous. His thick, coal-black hair has grown out and is combed neatly back. A spectator on the prosecution side wonders aloud if he even shaves.
Judge Michael Villano, a 65-year-old jurist with twenty years on the bench, enters the courtroom and, when everyone is reseated, addresses the lawyers. One of the male jurors is still trying to get out of serving, he says. The man showed up that morning with a letter from his employer stating that he is "integral" to the business.
Other prospective jurors had tried to evade jury duty, citing fears of gang retaliation. Some of them are on the jury anyway, including a woman who said she'd had to send her son out of state because of problems with a gang. But Villano says he's decided to let this man go, even though there will now be only one alternate juror to fill in if one of the others can't continue or has to be removed at some point.
Villano instructs the bailiff to bring in the jurors: four women and nine men. Then it's time for opening statements. The courtroom, which had been buzzing, quickly grows quiet as Bakke stands to deliver the outline of the prosecution's case.
Bakke has been with the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office since 1990 and with the office's Crimes Against Children unit for almost four years. It will be up to her to begin the process of destroying the defense's expected portrayal of a young, misguided Hispanic youth, replacing it with the portrait of a sadistic and brutal gang member.
Pausing at the lectern, Bakke gathers herself and then, softly, begins explaining to the jurors that what they will hear over the next week or two will be "extremely difficult" to listen to but "is not meant to evoke your sympathy." It is presented, she says, so that they can judge for themselves what happened the night Brandy DuVall was raped and murdered.
Angela Metzger and her daughter were still living with Angela's adoptive parents, Rose and Paul, on May 30, 1997, but were moving into their own place the next day, Bakke says. Angela last saw her daughter at six that evening, when they met on a street corner so that she could give Brandy a little spending money for the weekend. "Brandy reached into the car to give her a hug, and Angela told her, 'I love you,' to which Brandy replied, 'I love you, Mom.'"
Bakke jumps ahead to tell how Lance Butler and his friend discovered the body of an unidentified young woman by Clear Creek Canyon just outside of Golden. And how Jefferson County deputy Diane Obbema arrived at the scene and "saw, literally, a river of blood leading to the creek."
Bakke goes over Brandy's injuries. The stab wounds. The bruises. The bite mark and mutilation of her anus.
The jurors are realizing what Canney meant during jury selection when he said they would be shocked by the "sheer horror" of the case. They sit soberly through Bakke's depiction of Angela's frantic, two-day search for her daughter.
Bakke's voice strains as she describes the misery of a mother knocking on a glass partition at the Jefferson County Coroner's office, begging her daughter to "wake up, baby, wake up." And knowing that she would not.
Small cries and sniffles can be heard in the spectator gallery, and even some of the jurors wipe at their eyes. Across the aisle, Canney looks impassively at Bakke, as if listening to an interesting, but not necessarily believable, theory about the creation of the universe. Frank Vigil stares down at the table in front of him. Behind him, his mother bows her head.
Bakke knows that the jury will wonder why a fourteen-year-old girl was wandering the streets at midnight. So she explains that Brandy and Angela were "more like best friends than a mother/daughter relationship." The girl was "independent and in control of her life and did not need a mother to take care of her." She was "street-smart and, like most teenagers, she probably thought she was invincible."
Brandy was no angel, Bakke concedes. She drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine. "But this case is not about her lifestyle, but the rape, torture, kidnapping and murder of Brandy by, among others"--the prosecutor turns and points at Vigil, who keeps his head down--"this man." A member of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods, known as "Little Bang."
After drinking and getting high with her friend, Patrice Bowman, Brandy was standing at a bus stop on Federal when a car with five young men pulled up. Two of the men are "incidental to the case"; the other three are David "Baby G" Warren, his slow-witted brother, Maurice "Trap" Warren, and Jacob "Smiley" Casados.
"What exactly was said, we don't know," Bakke continues. But Brandy got in their car and was taken far north into Adams County, to 3165 West Hawthorne Place, near Federal Boulevard and 60th. It was a tiny ranch house, about 1,000 square feet of living space. A chain-link fence surrounded an unkempt yard filled with weeds, trash and discarded automobile parts.
Sleeping in one room was Jose "Uncle Joe" Martinez, who rented the house, as well as his ten-year-old son, Jose, and nine-year-old granddaughter, Rochelle. He was sleeping with the children because he'd done his laundry that day, and his clean clothes were still neatly folded on the bed in his own room.
Hanging out at the home when Brandy arrived were four more members of the Deuce-Seven: Danny "Bang" Martinez Jr., Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr. and Little Bang.
Bakke briefly outlines the next five hours, a "nightmare," a "free-for-all" of rape, debasement and savagery. When they were through, there was a young girl, pleading for her life, who made the mistake of admitting that she knew where she was. It was at that point, Bakke says, that the defendant, Frank Vigil, planted the seed for her death by telling the others they were going to have to "dust her" to prevent her from going to the police.
Brandy was taken into the mountains by Bang, Zig Zag, Pancho and Little Bang. At a turnoff from the highway, "in the dead of night," she was pulled from the car, stabbed, then flung off the embankment toward the stream below.
"There in the dark," Bakke says, just loud enough to be heard, "Brandy DuVall lay...but she was alive and struggled to get up...until at last she tumbles...and falls...and bleeds to death."
Bakke pauses to take a sip of water. Behind her, the sounds of sorrow are more pronounced.
"Crimes committed in hell do not have angels as witnesses," she resumes. It is an old line, a standard that prosecutors use when they know their witnesses are hardly more credible than the defendant.
The defense is sure to portray these witnesses as liars and worse, making deals and saying whatever it takes to save their own skins. To counter that, Bakke notes that "without angels for witnesses," the only way for the government to give Brandy justice "is to make deals with the devils."
One of these devils is Sammy Quintana Jr., she says. But he confessed to the police before any deal was sealed--not just regarding the DuVall killing, but also regarding his part in the murder of Venus Montoya.
Whether he agreed to talk to save himself from the possibility of the death penalty or "to clear his conscience" doesn't really matter, Bakke says. In exchange for his testimony against the others, the prosecution has agreed to "not ask for more than 96 years" at his sentencing after the last trial is over.
The Warren brothers and Jacob Casados, who turned off the highway instead of following the others into the mountains, all got deals. "You'll hear from them," Bakke notes. And the jurors will hear from "Uncle Joe," who has known Frank Vigil since he was a baby. Jose Martinez's cooperation earned him a death sentence from the Bloods and placement in a witness-protection program.
Most of the evidence left at Uncle Joe's house was carried away the next day by Danny Martinez and Sammy Quintana, Bakke says. "But unbeknownst to them, there was one piece of evidence Uncle Joe coveted and had secreted... beneath his kitchen sink."
Although she had rehearsed this many times, Bakke's voice cracks as she describes the little prayer card with the drawing of a hand with a nail hole in it.
There are few dry eyes in the courtroom as Bakke just manages to read the inscription on the card. "See, I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand."
By 1985, it was all over between Theresa and Bill. Her kids had about had it with her, too. Theresa was strung out on meth, her moods swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
The children went so far as to call their grandmother and beg to come back to Colorado. Theresa's mother sent them money for the plane tickets, then moved the three into the house her parents had left her at 2727 California. Raquel was fourteen, Danny thirteen, Antonio eleven.
Theresa soon followed, moving into the house next door. Bill had given up, saddened but unable to do anything for her. She knew that leaving him was a horrible mistake, both for her and the kids, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't get off drugs.
Her kids did their best to cover for her--like the night she overdosed on heroin in the front yard while celebrating her 32nd birthday. With an ambulance, and potentially the police, on the way, fifteen-year-old Danny ran to his mother's bedroom, found her syringes and drugs and hid them. When the paramedic insisted that they needed to know what Theresa had taken if they were to save her life, he ran back and returned with a single used syringe.
That experience got Theresa off heroin, but it didn't stop her from shooting up other drugs. She was back running with her old friends and never stopped to think what the repercussions would be for her children.
Family meant a lot to the boys. They split their time between 2727 California, where their mother now lived, and their dad's house, a couple of blocks away. They adopted Frankie Vigil, whose mother was living with Big Dan, as a little brother. Their favorite addition to the family, though, was Francisco Martinez.
Pancho, as everyone in his family called him, came from a house full of sisters and eagerly assumed the position of long-lost brother to Danny and Antonio. The three were inseparable.
Theresa liked to say that Francisco "just kind of showed up one day and never left." She'd barely known his mother, Linda, who was older, from the days before she left for California. But Theresa didn't mind. Pancho was a polite, quiet boy and, she soon discovered, liked to keep things neat and tidy. Her own boys were slobs, but Pancho would come over and clean their rooms, even ironing their clothes once they got older and more interested in girls.
Besides, Theresa was too busy worrying about her next high to think much about what her kids were doing. It took "divine intervention" to stop her from shooting up. One night Theresa purchased a $50 bag of cocaine and went to her bedroom, where she'd hidden a brand-new pack of syringes in a box under her bed. She got one out and pulled off the cap that covers the needle, only to find there was no needle to cover. She took out another, and again there was no needle beneath the protective cap. The same was true for every syringe in the package.
Theresa had never lost her faith in God. Now she believed the Lord was telling her to quit injecting drugs. She went into the bathroom and poured the cocaine into the toilet.
It was several years before Antonio told her that he, not God, had gone into her bedroom, found her syringes and broken off every needle. Her kids were that desperate to save their mother. But while she would never again resort to needles, Theresa continued to get high, especially after she was introduced to the pleasures of smoking crack cocaine.
And that was becoming very easy to find. Like Theresa, the old neighborhood had gone downhill. Five Points had fallen on hard times, the nightclubs closed and stores boarded up. Junkies and bums walked the sidewalks past yards and homes that had fallen into disrepair. It wasn't safe to be on the streets at night. And a new threat was just beginning to appear, like the first tiny cells of a cancer. California street gangs selling crack cocaine. Armed and dangerous.
Later, Theresa would realize that the drugs hid the fact that her boys were in trouble. The street gangs were metastasizing and in search of new recruits, preferably young ones so they could be indoctrinated early into the gang mentality and commit felonies with relative impunity because of their age.
The three boys--Danny, Antonio and Pancho--were perfect candidates for the gangs, which appealed to kids by professing to love them more than their own families could. They would die for them, gang members promised, and expected the same sort of unquestioned loyalty in return.
Theresa missed the first warning signs. She knew vaguely that Raquel was dating a young black man who had some sort of gang affiliation, but for her, gangs still evoked memories of her youth--nothing too dangerous.
Danny started having trouble at school and was repeatedly suspended for fighting and talking back to teachers. He'd never been a good student, but now every week he stayed home was a week he got further behind his classmates. And Antonio, who loved school and did well, complained that he was having trouble with some of the older kids in the neighborhood on his way to and from Cole Middle School.
Finally, Theresa got a sign that even she couldn't miss. Fourteen-year-old Antonio asked her, "If we give you the down payment on a car, can you keep the payments up?"
At the time, Theresa was working as a cook at a nightclub that a sister had opened. She often didn't get home until 2 a.m., and the boys worried about her taking the bus that late.
"Where would you get that kind of money?" she demanded.
"Don't worry about where it comes from," he replied.
"No," she said. "I don't want it if I can't understand where you got it."
That opened her eyes to the fact that there was more to all this "Blood this and Blood that" prattle she'd been hearing from the boys, the sort of secret language her grandparents had used when they didn't want her to understand them. She told them they were being brainwashed, but that didn't mean much coming from someone who smoked crack--the very drug that gave the gangs their power.
The boys loved their mother. They would later tell her that one of the things that first attracted them to the gangs was the money, so that they could buy her things. They'd offer her trips, cars, cash. Anything but drugs. They wanted her off the drugs.
Theresa realized her sons were right--not just for her sake, but for theirs. If she was going to talk to them, really talk to them, she was going to have to do so from a higher moral ground. So she stopped drinking, stopped smoking crack and pot. She began going to church every day and started trying to learn everything she could about this new type of gang.
The boys had been recruited by Raquel's boyfriend into the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods run by the Locketts, a family of black brothers who'd immigrated from California and claimed the Park Hill neighborhood. But 2727 California was in the heart of Crips territory, and the Crips were the arch-enemies of the Bloods. That made her boys targets.
Theresa discovered that the gangs tended to recruit boys from families that had some means rather than the homeless or destitute. That way, if the boys were arrested, the parents could pay their bonds. Or if the boys were ripped off for the drugs they were selling for the gangs, they could get their parents to make it up. This lesson she learned firsthand after Danny came to her begging for several hundred dollars. He said he'd been ripped off and was in serious trouble with his gang if he couldn't come up with the money. She gave it to him but said it would be the last time.
Working at night, she found it even harder to keep track of her sons--especially Danny, who began staying out all night. He seemed to have given up on ever being anything but a gang member; he'd fallen so far behind his classmates at school that he dropped out of tenth grade.
Theresa would ask Antonio, who preferred to sleep in his own bed, where his brother was. But Antonio always said he didn't know.
She didn't know what to do. She demanded that they stop using gang language in the house and refused to let them listen to rap music that insulted women. "How can you listen to that around me and your sister?" she demanded.
They didn't really have an answer, other than that the music spoke to them about life on the streets. "Things are different now than when you were young," they'd tell her.
Always in the past, she'd been able to talk to her kids. But now all they did was spout gang rhetoric at her. About corrupt cops shaking down gang members...the brotherhood of Bloods...an us-against-the-world mentality backed by guns that was particularly frightening when Theresa learned her boys had earned nicknames. Bang and Boom--'cause those are the sounds a gun makes.
Theresa realized she'd need help if she was going to fight the gangs for her sons. She began attending neighborhood meetings sponsored by the Reverend Leon Kelly, a former convict turned minister who was trying to educate the community about the gangs.
She says she went to every meeting through 1987 and quickly realized that everyone, including the police--especially the police--had no idea what to do about the problem. Except the one officer who stood up at a meeting and said the department's idea of a solution was to "round them up, put them in Mile High Stadium and shoot them."
It was a big joke, and some in the room even applauded. But Theresa was outraged. "Excuse me, but I'm the mother of two gang members," she said. "These people, these Bloods and Crips, moved into Denver and started recruiting our children with their money, and your solution is to corral and shoot them down?"
Los Angeles Police Department gang experts came to some of the meetings. They warned against going after the gangs so hard that they scattered to the suburbs. They were almost apologetic, Theresa remembers, about a California program that allowed deferred sentences for gang members provided they leave the state. Many of them had wound up in Denver. The L.A. cops urged everyone at the meetings to learn from their mistakes, to give the kids options and alternatives while they were still young. But Denver wasn't listening.
Theresa was often the only parent of gang members at the meetings--at least, the only one who would admit to it. She went to the homes of other parents whose children she knew to be at risk, but had doors--literally and figuratively--slammed in her face. She was ostracized in her own community: Her boys were gangsters, and other families didn't want their children tainted.
She moved to an apartment in Aurora, hoping the distance from 2727 California might make a difference. But the boys just drove to Park Hill. And Danny often stayed with his grandmother, who doted on her grandson.
Theresa searched her sons' rooms. When she found drugs, she flushed them down the toilet. When she found guns, she turned them over to Leon Kelly.
"Mom, you can't do that," the boys would complain.
"It's already done," she'd reply.
"Mom, you have to go back and get the gun from Reverend Kelly," they'd demand.
"No," she'd reply. "If you want it, you call him and ask for it back. The gun is gone. The drugs are gone."
But even Kelly disappointed her.
One day he posed with gang members for a photograph that ran on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News to illustrate a story on Denver's growing gang problem. All the other gang members had their faces covered to disguise their identity. But there was Antonio, thirteen years old, grinning like a Cheshire cat for all the world to see.
As she grew increasingly frustrated, Theresa began taking more chances. One day she went to the Locketts' house in Park Hill to look for her sons; the mother told her they were at a house three blocks away. As Theresa went up to that house, she saw a man being ushered out and money exchanging hands. She knew this was not a safe place to be, and she could see her sons and Pancho through the screen door.
"What the hell is going on?" she demanded, opening the door and walking in. One of the Locketts, his arms as big as hams, looked up in surprise from his chair. Crack cocaine was piled on a table in front of him; an assault rifle lay within easy reach. In fact, everywhere she looked there were guns.
"Let's go," she said to her boys and Francisco, ignoring Lockett's scowl.
"Mom...," her boys started to protest.
"Don't say a word," she replied grimly. "Go get in the car."
For all their nicknames and growing reputation, Theresa's boys weren't about to ignore their mother when she was that angry. They got in the car and let her drive them home.
When she got there, Theresa called the police and told them what she had seen. The Locketts were infamous. They'd already had one home seized under public-nuisance statutes for dealing crack. But the officer told her that while they were aware of the current situation, the police had rules they had to follow, and the Locketts didn't.
Theresa knew she was losing the war for her sons. Danny, in particular, believed and lived everything he was told by the older members of the CMG. They were family. The cops were the bad guys; women were "bitches" and "hos." Only Bloods could be trusted.
Finally, Theresa had heard enough and threw Danny out of the house. In the days that followed, she tried not to think about what he was doing, how he was surviving. Then one evening, Antonio came to her and said, "Mom, you have to go get him." Danny was living in a motel room on Colfax Avenue, a 9mm handgun on the nightstand, selling drugs for the gang; it was only a matter of time before the police or someone else got to him. Theresa wouldn't pick him up, but she told Antonio that Danny could come home.
She had little hope that she could save Danny, but she still thought Antonio might make it. Her younger son had always had big plans. He was going to be an artist, attend college, maybe draw for Disney someday. He knew that to pursue those plans, he had to stay in school.
That wasn't easy, especially because he, too, was proud of his gang affiliation. He'd get expelled for wearing red shoestrings or a red hat, or for throwing gang signs. But he'd always come home and talk to his mother. "Tell them they have to let me back in," he'd insist. And soon Antonio would be back in the classroom.
Antonio managed to stay out of any major trouble until a few days after his fifteenth birthday. But on March 26, 1989, he shot another boy in the alley behind 2727 California. It was Easter Sunday.
January 7, 1998
"When you hear what happened to Brandy DuVall...the way she was killed and the way she was raped...it is a natural human reaction to cry out for vengeance."
Randy Canney faces the jury, knowing that he is walking a tightrope on behalf of his client. A criminal defense lawyer for ten years, Canney has never before had a first-degree-murder case. He'd once plea-bargained a death-penalty case--a gang shooting--down to 48 years. But this was different, very different.
"But there is only one defendant sitting here: Frank Vigil Jr.," Canney says, pointing to his client. "Frank Vigil did not kill Brandy DuVall. And there is nothing in the evidence you will hear to suggest he did."
Jeffco DA Dave Thomas had opted not to seek the death penalty in this case, primarily because of Vigil's age. But if Canney lost, Frank would spend the rest of his life in prison. No parole. And life in a maximum-security prison was a long, long time for someone not yet old enough to vote.
Canney had always wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer; he liked the idea of fighting for the underdog against the state. His first obligation was to make the state prosecutors prove their case, but he felt his job went further than that. It was up to him to paint his client as a human being, not a monster. And if the government's facts were overwhelming, to find mitigating factors that would explain why a sixteen-year-old boy would have participated in something so sick and brutal.
Circumstances. The word haunts Canney. What circumstances led Frank Vigil to be in that house that night?
"Frank Vigil did not rape Brandy DuVall. There is no credible evidence that he had any sexual contact with her," he continues.
It was Frank Vigil's age that first struck Canney when he was appointed to the case in June 1997. After hearing some of what had happened to Brandy DuVall, he had expected to find some hardened gang member. But what he saw was a scared kid.
It was even hard to deal with the family. Absolutely horrifying to speak to a mother who knew she would probably never see her teenage son in her home again. He had tried to find a balance when talking to Sally Vigil, a balance that would offer some hope while also making it clear that there wasn't much.
And his work in the courtroom would be another balancing act. What had happened to the girl was horrible; Canney needed to convince the jury that Frank, as the smallest and youngest gang member present, was less involved and, in fact, afraid to speak up or try to stop the brutality.
"He was not the one who picked her up and brought her to the house," Canney tells the jury. "He was not the one who gave her cocaine."
This was another fine line. His client was charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault, sexual assault on a child, assault and kidnapping. Mere presence at the house wasn't enough to convict him of first-degree murder. But if the jury believed Frank Vigil had participated in any way in the felonies leading up to her death, the way Colorado law read, he was just as guilty as whoever plunged the knife into her neck.
Their only chance, he figured, was to attack the credibility of the defense witnesses, particularly Uncle Joe and Zig Zag. Both would claim that Frank had been the first to urge the others to silence Brandy by killing her. Canney would have to impeach them as liars.
Now he cautions the jury that when the prosecution presented its case, to "remember where it comes from. For the prosecution to say that these people are not 'angels' makes them guilty of an unbelievable understatement. There is no physical evidence, and no reliable witnesses, that proves Frank Vigil committed a crime."
It was not some accident that the gang members showed up at Uncle Joe's that night, Canney says. "He is the uncle of Danny Martinez, who was on the run from the law, and he knew that." Nor was it the first time that a similar gang rape had taken place at the home of Uncle Joe, "who got his cocaine from the gang."
Jose Martinez's role bothered Canney tremendously. So many adults could have stopped what happened to Brandy DuVall. The defendant's family, by keeping him away from bad influences. Even the victim's family, by insisting that a fourteen-year-old girl belonged at home in her bed instead of wandering the streets--although he couldn't say that in court without inviting a backlash from the jury.
But Uncle Joe was there. He should have stopped them.
Sammy Quintana was another gem. Admitting to some things but making everyone else look worse than himself. "The prosecution says they'll be asking for 96 years. What they forgot to tell you," Canney says, letting a hint of sarcasm slip into his voice, "was he could get as little as 48."
Quintana, he notes, had killed two girls. "In the summer of 1996, Sammy Quintana and a cohort set out to kill a drug snitch, Salvino Martinez," he explains. "Instead, they shot an innocent girl, Venus Montoya."
Canney knew he would have to watch overplaying Quintana's gang activities. That could backfire, since Frank had hung around with these guys voluntarily. Circumstances again. The kid of a single mom. Where was he going to find someone to look up to for strength and protection? It sure as hell wasn't the high-school basketball coach.
The other prosecution witnesses, Canney says, are liars, all liars. When they had to point a finger to save themselves, they pointed it at Frank Vigil, the one they weren't afraid of.
And there are two important witnesses the jurors will not hear from because they are also defendants, Canney points out. Danny Martinez Jr., "the biggest boss," and Francisco Martinez, "who was sicker than anyone can imagine." Bang, Pancho and Zig Zag were all in their mid-twenties and larger than his client. "Frank Vigil could not have stopped anyone."
"You remember that in voir dire, I told you that my great fear was the sheer horror of what happened to Brandy DuVall would make you want to take it out on someone," Canney says, laying it on thick now. "I trust you will not take it out on an innocent sixteen-year-old, who did not commit any crimes."
Antonio "Boom" Martinez sits on the porch of 2727 California, a little white house with green trim, fondly looking over the neighborhood that he, his brother and Pancho claimed as their own. A bastion of Bloods in the middle of a sea of Crips, as he remembers it.
"I love hanging out over here," he says. "I know we did a lot of bad shit. But I have a lot of good memories about the way things were."
Twenty-three-year-old Antonio is short, barrel-chested and thick-shouldered; his dark hair has been shorn to a boot-camp stubble. Considering his tough reputation on these streets, his face can be surprisingly soft, with large, doe-like eyes, long lashes and a smile as white and perfect as a full moon.
But when he's angry, or simply recalling an event that made him angry, those eyes turn hard, almost brittle with suggested violence. The smile may remain, but it loses its warmth and gains a ferocity.
Maybe this face is a mask, something he puts on now that he's chosen to go defenseless in a world where some are still gunning for him.
Antonio's hands, too, are softer than you'd expect for a street gangster. But then, he's an artist, and his hands are his tools. When he talks about his wilder days, he holds his arms akimbo, his palms up and slightly curled as if loosely holding handguns. A gangster pose. He slips easily into gang slang. Profane. Arrogant. More of the hooked-on-ebonics of black gangs than the singsong lilt of the old cholo Mexican gangs.
But when he talks about his art, or his daughter or girlfriend, or what he wants to do with his life, he is well-spoken and engaging. Confidence replaces arrogance. As he says with what his mother calls his Kool-Aid grin, "I can be pretty charming when I want to--especially with the girls."
He's only a few months shy of graduating from the Colorado Institute of Art. As soon as he's out, he hopes to leave the state and its memories, good and bad, and head to a city further west, where a friend has promised to set him up in a state-of-the-art tattoo studio.
Antonio still considers himself a Bloods gang member; he's just no longer committing crimes. He's a hardworking (two jobs), tax-paying citizen with big plans. He's getting on with life--but he can't leave all of the memories behind.
His earliest are of being with his older brother, Danny. Always together, through thick and thin.
Once, when they were living with their mother and Bill Rollins in a California apartment complex, Antonio was standing next to his brother while Danny threw rocks into the complex's whirlpool, clogging the drain. The manager appeared and, seizing the boys by their thin arms, dragged them home. Their stepfather apologized and said it wouldn't happen again. Then he spanked both boys.
Although he'd had no part in the rock-throwing, Antonio wouldn't snitch on his brother to escape punishment. "That's the way we were," Antonio says. "We always took our lickings together." Except this time.
Even if Antonio had told on his brother, he wouldn't be saying anything new. Although everyone loved Danny, they all knew he was a troublemaker.
"I used to steal Playboy from my stepfather," says Antonio. "I was only six or maybe seven." He laughs. "I always had a thing for naked women." He hid the magazines under a toy box.
Antonio came home from school one day and heard his mother talking to one of her friends on the telephone. He realized she'd found the magazines while cleaning his room. "It has to be Danny," he heard her say. "He's girl-crazy."
Danny never denied it. "All of our lives we took the blame for each other," Antonio says. "We got into trouble together, and we either got out of trouble together, or we didn't get out of trouble, period."
Except this time. Thinking about where his brother is now, awaiting trial for first-degree murder, Antonio grows silent. Stepping away from the gang life when he saw the "craziness" escalating was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do. Now he's tormented by the thought that if he'd stayed at Uncle Joe's that night, he might have saved them all. Maybe. Maybe not.
Growing up, Danny always wanted to be the leader. "He was charismatic and a good athlete," Antonio recalls. "I always wanted to be with him. We'd be together so much that sometimes people thought we were twins."
Although that was fine with Antonio, it was important to Danny that people knew he was the older of the two--that Antonio was his little brother, a tagalong.
When their mom and Bill broke up, Antonio was lost. "He was the only dad I knew," he says. "I liked him. But he had us call him 'Bill.' He said, 'They know who their father is.'
"One minute Bill was in my life. He was the guy who spanks you when you did something bad. The guy who buys you toys, who takes you fishing and sees that we have a place to live...Then he was gone, and I didn't seem him anymore. What kind of sense is that?"
With Bill gone, Danny became more than a big brother. Even though the boys were sent back to Denver to live with their father, Big Dan, who was living with his parents, Danny "was my father," Antonio says.
Antonio rarely spent any time with Big Dan. "He'd come by and get Danny. I guess it was because he was Danny 'Junior' and sort of knew him before him and mom split up. Me, I was just some kid his old lady had after she left him. In some ways it was depressing," he admits. "I used to wonder, 'How come I never get to go?'"
But on the rare occasion when their father took both boys, Antonio would usually wonder why he'd wanted to go so desperately. "It wasn't like we'd get to be with just him," he recalls. "There was always one of his girlfriends along, and she was always a bitch to the kids. Danny always seemed to have fun with him. But I had more fun with my grandma and grandpa."
And there was always his maternal grandmother at 2727 California to turn to. She spoiled the boys, who could do no wrong. The only things the boys didn't like was when she and other relatives would say mean things about their mother, how she wasn't a good mom. That made them cry.
Antonio looks at the house. He notes that the row of bullet holes made when a rival gang fired an assault rifle have been well-patched. "You can hardly tell where they were," he says. "Shit, we used to come out of the house some mornings and see a new hole and say, 'Damn. I never even heard the shot.' Guess we kind of got used to getting shot at."
Antonio's first experience with gangs came when they were still living in California. Danny was in a breakdancing group that competed once a week at the local skating rink and, as usual, Antonio would tag along to watch.
One weekend, their friends brought Willy, a black kid just out of juvenile hall. A red bandanna protruded from Willy's back pocket, but Antonio didn't know what it meant.
Another teen did, and he went to call some Crip friends. He told them there was a Blood in town.
A little while later several teenagers appeared in the parking lot. "They showed the security guard they had a gun, and he came in--didn't call the police--but told us, 'If you're smart, you'll stay inside.'"
But Willy was already outside, checking out the action. Realizing the spot he was in, he took off across the parking lot. "Someone let off a shot," Antonio says. It was his first taste of gunfire.
"Danny and me and our friends were scared," he recalls. "We didn't want to go outside, but we knew we would eventually have to leave, so we went together."
On the way home they ran across a terrorized but safe Willy. "I was thinking, 'Over a red rag? They'll come down here and shoot someone over the color of their bandanna? What kind of fuckin' sense does that make?'"
By the time the boys got back to Denver, the gangs were here, too. And they started looking good when Theresa moved back home, hooked on drugs. "Life got really shitty," Antonio says. "She'd make dinner and clean the house, but that was about it. I realized that if I wanted something, I was going to have to get it on my own."
A psychologist would one day say that Antonio got involved in gangs because of repressed anger over his mother abandoning him. "That wasn't true," he says. "She was absent a lot of it, but we made our own choices, because it seemed like fun. By the time she knew what was going on, we were too far gone. I was like any other thirteen- or fourteen-year-old--you couldn't tell me shit. She'd try to tell us that what we were doing was wrong. But I was like, 'You ain't been livin' right all your life. Don't tell me how to live mine.'"
Gang activity was still pretty loose, Antonio remembers. "The neighborhoods in Denver weren't saturated with gangs, or at least they weren't in control. They were pretty scattered, even on the east side and Park Hill. Fuller Park was the only really established gang territory." Park Hill wasn't "consolidated" by the CMG Bloods until 1987.
That was the year that Danny and Antonio officially joined the gang. But because their sister was dating a Blood and because they were "Mexican kids," they'd already been having constant run-ins with the older Crips and younger Crip wannabes.
The cops were of no help. "They wrote us off," Antonio says bitterly. "The police knew I was in trouble when I was twelve, but none of the motherfuckers would help. Not an offer of a ride. No one said, 'Hey, I'll watch your back so you can get to school and back home safe.'"
Antonio shrugs. It probably wouldn't have made a difference, "but they didn't even try. If they had tried, then maybe in some later year, I would have been able to say, 'Yeah, there are some who cared.' But I can't."
The way he explains it, he practically joined the Bloods out of spite. When he was twelve, Antonio's favorite football player was Brian Bozworth, who played for the University of Oklahoma. The school's colors were white and red.
For Christmas that year, a relative bought him a red jersey with Bozworth's number on it. He proudly wore it to school. "The Crips were all over me because I liked a particular player who went to a school that wore the color red," he recalls. "I decided, 'Too bad.' I didn't feel like I should have to explain why I was wearing a Brian Bozworth shirt. I told them, 'Fuck you, I don't like you anyway.'"
After that, joining the Bloods and wearing a red bandanna was easy.
"When she found out we were in a gang, Mom freaked out," Antonio remembers. "But we had been around drugs and guns and crime all of our lives, except when we were with Bill. But she got scared, 'cause now we were in it. She was terrified that her sons were now part of all this."
Antonio's mom wasn't the only one who worried. Their cousin, Sammy Quintana, was no longer allowed to visit or spend the night. His parents had built a nice, comfortable life for themselves and their kids, and they didn't want Sammy, a soccer star at school, hanging around with troublemakers.
One day, Sam Quintana Sr. gave Danny and Antonio a warning. "If I ever see you at my jail, you better act like you don't know me. Because that's where you're headed."
If they didn't have Sammy for company anymore, the brothers found someone they liked even better: Francisco Martinez. "He liked hanging around us because girls were always coming over to see Raquel or me and Danny," Antonio says. "He hardly ever went home. Sometimes his mom would get the police to pick him up. He'd go home only long enough to shower, change his clothes, and then he'd be right back.
"He was always straight up with me and Danny. He would tell you exactly what he thought and never lied." Antonio reconsiders. "Except to girls."
The brothers never begrudged Sammy all his advantages. "But we had nothing better to do than be bad," Antonio says, then laughs. Even his heroes weren't the regular sort. "I used to tell my mom that I wanted to grow up to be a hit man. I was fascinated with the whole gangster life. I read books about Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Sam Giancanna and Carlos Gambino.
"They were my idols. But I wasn't Italian, so I couldn't be in the Mob. I did the next closest thing. I joined a street gang."
Antonio and Danny had been in the gang only two weeks when they were given their first gun, a .22 caliber pistol. "We convinced them that we were willin' to use it. And they were just as enthused--'Hey, some juveniles willin' to shoot.' The violence in Denver was just starting to surface. I think we had a lot to do with that."
Antonio says this with pride. "Part of it was puttin' on a show. We were always smaller than other boys, but we would fight, and now we could back it up with a gun. We got a reputation as being willing to shoot."
Standing in the front yard of an old gang battle zone, Antonio strikes a gangster pose. "If you're not willin' to shoot, then get out of my face," he tells an imaginary enemy, "because I'll kill ya, and I don't care. I got nothin' going for me."
The boys were "beat in" to the gang after their first couple of drive-by shootings. "It was pretty mellow," Antonio says. "I didn't get the ass-whuppin' I should have and have given to others myself."
They already had their nicknames. "Bang and Boom, because that's the sound a gun makes," he says. "We'd already proved ourselves as soldiers, willing to be violent and 'down' for the cause. Willing to do dirt, including shoot people."
But there was more to it than gunplay. In California they'd seen older kids who had things--cars, money, girls--because they were dealing drugs. They wanted some of that for themselves and also to buy their mother the things she could never afford. Not that she'd take them once she knew the boys were in a gang.
The CMG leadership started giving the Martinez brothers drugs to deal. They defended their turf with bravado and bullets. "You could come buy from us," he says, "but otherwise, you were not welcome on our block. Everyone else was older and bigger, but the word was out that them little fuckin' Mexican kids had guns and would shoot.
"I wasn't stupid about it. I mean, I've seen guys who get all macho and shit and stand there in the middle of the fuckin' street, guns blazing away like they think they're fuckin' John Wayne or something. Those guys usually leave in an ambulance.
"I didn't want to get shot. I might have placed myself in the position to get shot, but when I heard a gun go off, I ducked--and lived to fight another day."
The brothers' reputation grew to the point that every time there was a shooting in the neighborhood, the police blamed it on Bang and Boom. "Sometimes it wasn't even us that did it," Antonio says and grins. "We kind of became established as 'the usual suspects.'"
It was all a big, dangerous game, and they were never caught. Until Easter Sunday 1989.
Raquel, Antonio and their mother went over to 2727 California to take their grandmother on a picnic; Danny was already living there most of the time. Pancho had dropped by, and he and Antonio were standing in the alley behind the house when they saw three Crips approaching.
The Crips usually knew better than to traipse through the boys' neighborhood. (These three later told police that they were late to a picnic themselves and taking a shortcut.) But to Antonio, they didn't seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere else. "They came lookin' for trouble--and they found it."
The boys flashed gang signs at each other. A challenge. The three Crips were older and bigger, and Danny was in the house. But the other two held their ground.
"They were talkin' shit," Antonio recalls, walking over to the side yard to re-enact the drama. "One put his hand under the baggy T-shirt he was wearing, up near his waistband, as if he had a gun.
"Well, I had a .45 stashed under the trash dumpster," he says, pointing to where a dumpster still stands. "So I bent over and got the gun and says, 'Yeah, muthafucka? Wassup? You think this is a game? Well, if you're carryin', pull your strap and make this a gunfight. I'd like that better.' They took off running."
One of the Crips was trying to climb over a fence when Antonio pointed the gun at him. "I didn't aim--I just let off a shot."
Antonio giggles at the memory. "He caught a hot one in the ass."
The police arrived and forced Antonio and Pancho to the ground, stepping on their necks to keep them from moving as they pressed shotguns against their skulls. They dragged Danny out of the house while photographers snapped away. Danny's photograph would appear on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News the next morning, even though the police had already released him by then.
Antonio and Pancho were not so lucky. "To me, I thought it was cool," Antonio says. "I didn't care about the arrest. I know it sounds stupid now, but I was excited that it was going to be on the news and everyone would know I shot a Crab."
It got less exciting fast when Antonio learned that he might be tried as an adult and could face as much as forty years in prison. "I thought gangs were cool," he says. "I got so involved, I was in so deep, that when it stopped being cool...there was no way out."
He stops. Watches a car with tinted windows drive past. Only after it's gone does he relax. "My mom and grandma prayed a lot for Danny and me."
January 7, 1998
"The people call Angela Metzger."
At those words from prosecutor Mark Randall, Angela rises from her seat in the spectator gallery and makes her way up to the witness stand. She raises her right hand and swears to tell the truth.
She is wearing a black dress. A reminder to everyone in the courtroom that she is still in mourning.
"How is it that you know Brandy DuVall?" Randall asks.
"Brandy's my daughter," she replies, using the present tense.
"Can you give us her full name and date of birth?"
"It's Brandaline Rose DuVall. She was born July 28, 1982."
Randall holds up a photograph and asks Angela to identify the girl pictured in it.
"It's Brandy," she says quietly, as the first tear appears on her cheek.
On May 30, 1997, Brandy was "real excited" about moving with her mother to a new apartment the next day.
"How did Brandy travel?" Randall asks.
"By bus, or she would call me or my brother or her brother--someone to come and get her," she replies. "But most of the time by bus."
"Would days go by where you would not hear from her?" Randall asks.
"Never," Angela replies. Usually no more than an hour or two would go by without Brandy checking in.
"Was she in the habit of staying out all night?"
"Rarely. She liked to sleep at home."
Brandy had paged her that afternoon, soon after Angela got off work. She wanted to go shopping at the mall and needed money.
They met two blocks from Angela's mother's house. "She was very happy. She looked beautiful." Now the tears begin in earnest.
After Angela gave her the money, Brandy had reached into her uncle's car and "grabbed me around the neck real hard and said, 'Thanks, Mom.'"
Angela tries to continue, but she can't speak. She takes a moment, then goes on. "I said, 'You're welcome, baby.'"
Brandy started to walk away but suddenly turned back. "'I love you, Mom. I love you, Uncle.' She was bouncy, in a good mood."
Angela takes a deep breath. "It was the last time I ever seen her."
At the defense table, Frank Vigil looks up briefly, then back down at the table. Spectators are sniffling on the other side of the aisle. Brandy's grandmother, Rose, is crying, her thin shoulders shaking.
Randall asks how Brandy was dressed. He needs Angela to explain why her daughter was wearing a red basketball jersey that might attract gang members like sharks to blood.
Her daughter liked to play basketball, she explains, "and Michael Jordan was her idol. She got the shirt from her dad, who lives in Phoenix."
"When did you think something was wrong?" Randall asks.
"The next day." Angela had tried to page her daughter, but there was no response. She tried friends, but no one knew where Brandy was.
At last, 24 hours after she'd last seen her, Angela had reported her daughter missing to the police in Jefferson County and Denver. The next morning, Sunday, the newspaper had an article about an unidentified body found in Clear Creek.
Angela had called the Jeffco coroner. After she described Brandy, she was told to come down to the office. With fear clutching at her like a drowning man, she arrived at the coroner's office. "They told me to come downstairs, where they showed me her jewelry."
Randall holds up a plastic Baggie and hands it to Angela. She opens it and takes out a ring, tries it on. "It's a 'B' ring," she says at last, her voice quavering. "She never took it off."
It's the first time she's seen it since that terrible day at the coroner's office. When she saw it then, she had hoped against hope that her daughter had been robbed. That whoever waited to be identified had stolen these things from her daughter.
But then they had taken Angela to another room and asked her to look through a glass partition. A body bag was unzipped, a face was revealed. Wake up, baby. Wake up.
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"Who did you see?" Randall asks, as gently as a question like that can be asked.
"It was Brandy," she says, weeping.
Randall takes his seat. Canney has no questions. A mother's grief is left to wash back and forth across the silent courtroom like a scream off canyon walls.
Next week: Frank Vigil's trial concludes.
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