Dealing With the Devil
Theresa Swinton looks at the simple two-story house at 2727 California without much affection.
An uncle she never knew purchased it for his parents, her grandparents, shortly before he died in action during World War II. It was the childhood home of her mother, aunts and uncles. The address is on her birth certificate and on those of her first and third children, Raquel and Antonio. She was living two blocks away, across the street from her in-laws, when her second, Danny, was born. But he, too, considered this home.
It seems she has spent her life trying to escape from 2727 California. At age sixteen, marrying Danny Martinez Sr. to get out of the house. Moving to California with her second husband. Moving away again after she ruined that marriage with her drug habit, trying to get her sons away from the gangs.
But something always brought her back. Usually something to do with her sons.
After fifteen-year-old Antonio shot another boy on Easter Sunday 1989 in the alley behind 2727 California, Theresa moved back in to live with her mother and seventeen-year-old Danny. She didn't want to, but it was the only way she could keep an eye on her older son.
Danny wouldn't leave--not even after the shooting. It didn't matter that the place was surrounded by Crips, like a fort in a John Wayne movie. His grandmother always let him do anything he wanted, bought whatever he asked for. And if Theresa complained, her mother would tell her in front of the boys, "You were just as wild when you were young. Leave them alone and they'll grow out of it."
Following their grandmother's lead, the boys--Boom and Bang were their nicknames now--would throw Theresa's past mistakes back in her face whenever she tried to lecture them about the gangs. No one seemed to understand that they might not live to grow out of their affiliation with the Bloods--and if they did, it might be behind prison walls.
Even after his arrest, Antonio couldn't seem to grasp reality. "We don't go running to the police every time they shoot at us," he complained. "They shoot at us all the time."
"Why do you think that they're all like you?" Theresa retorted angrily. "All this macho, bullshit gang stuff about not snitching. You shot him, Antonio. Why'd you shoot him?"
Antonio just shrugged. The Crips had come up on him and Pancho--Francisco Martinez, who had been like a brother even before they all joined the gang--and threatened them. If he'd backed down, standing in the yard of his own grandmother's house, it would have been seen as weakness. And weakness could get you killed in that neighborhood.
But now Antonio was facing the possibility of being tried as an adult for attempted murder, which carried the possibility of forty years in prison. The police and courts were trying to crack down on gang violence; they'd threatened to make an example of Antonio.
Antonio wasn't the only son she had to worry about. Danny drank a lot--never just a beer or two, always to the point where he was falling-down drunk and sick. He wasn't a mean drunk, just a sloppy one, and Theresa was afraid it would destroy him someday. Maybe sooner than later. But there was no talking to him--not about his lifestyle, not about the danger. Even if she found his drugs and flushed them down the toilet, he just hid them better the next time.
Danny was using the house at 2727 California to sell crack cocaine to the addicts who'd wander over from Five Points. At night they'd come stumbling to the back of the house and whistle. Danny would go to the door and look out to see who they were, then meet them out there in the dark.
"I don't know how many times I tried to tell him, 'Danny, somebody whistles and you go stand in the door with the light on behind you. What's to keep the Crips from figuring that out and setting you up?'" Theresa says, sitting on the porch of 2727 California. "He'd say, 'That's not gonna happen, Mom.'"
She pauses, looks at the large picture window that dominates the front of the house, sees it not as it is but cracked and punctured by bullet holes. "Nothing could hurt him...yeah."
On the night of June 18, 1989, Theresa was in her second-floor bedroom, thinking about Antonio: His public defenders had finally convinced him to plead guilty, saying that as a juvenile with no prior convictions, he'd probably get probation. Sentencing was set for the next morning.
Theresa's youngest brother, Jimmy, was asleep on the couch downstairs, his children, Matt and Lisa, nestled into blankets on the floor beside him. Danny was on the telephone in the bedroom next to hers. It was a warm night and she had her window open--and she could hear voices in the side yard. She figured soon there'd be a whistle from below, and Danny would hang up the phone and attend to business.
Suddenly, gunshots--five loud bangs and booms--followed by a high-pitched scream.
Theresa hurried down to the living room. "Jimmy, did you hear that?" she yelled.
"Yes," he answered weakly.
She turned on the lights. The picture window had a large crack running through it; five holes appeared in the pane. She realized then that it was Jimmy who had screamed. He lay on the couch, wearing only his pants, and blood was everywhere. He'd been shot in both arms, both legs and once in the abdomen. Every time his heart beat, blood spurted from the stomach wound.
Danny rushed into the room and scooped up Jimmy's terrified children. He ran upstairs and hid them under a bed in case the shooters returned. Theresa's mother took one look and hid in the laundry room, where she ran around in little circles, crying.
Theresa rode with Jimmy to the hospital. Although her brother's scream kept reverberating in her mind, all she could think was: They were trying to kill my son. They thought Jimmy was Danny. They wanted to kill my son.
The next day, Theresa attended Antonio's sentencing. He was given two years at the Lookout Mountain juvenile detention center.
Still sleepless, Theresa returned to 2727 California and worked with Danny to clean up the blood. But for a case of mistaken identity, she kept thinking, on this day she could have had one son in the hospital fighting for his life, the other incarcerated. Her worst fears were coming true, and she had no idea what to do about it.
The boys' father, Danny Martinez Sr., was no help. Under a variety of aliases, he's been arrested 31 times--beginning with simple assault in 1974 and then going on to seven more assaults, five driving-under-the-influence citations, burglary, drug charges, auto theft and weapons charges.
"He was as much a part of the gangster lifestyle as they were," Theresa says. His nickname, "Bird-dog," was "as familiar on the streets as 'Boom' and 'Bang'... He never tried to stop them; he went right along with them."
Theresa called Bill Rollins, her ex-husband in California, and explained the situation. Despite their breakup, they'd remained friends, and she knew he still cared about the boys. Bill suggested that she send Danny to him.
Surprisingly, Danny went without much fuss. He knew as well as she did that the bullets had been meant for him. And the only two members of his gang he could count on to watch his back--Antonio and Pancho--were locked up at Lookout Mountain.
Jimmy lived, but Theresa's mother never returned to 2727 California. She said she couldn't stay there, not with the memory of her son's life spurting out of him. She moved in with another daughter and had the house boarded up. She said she was going to get rid of it.
When Danny and Antonio heard about their grandmother's intentions from their sister, they begged her not to sell the house. It was the closest thing to a permanent address they'd ever known; it was their house. "If you don't want it, give it to our mother," they said.
After their grandmother gave in, they called Theresa. "Grandma says you can have the house if you want it."
Theresa didn't want it. There'd been too much blood. Too many shots and sirens. But her sons begged and pleaded, promising to turn their lives around, to get out of the gang. So Theresa agreed to keep 2727 California.
She glances at the new picture window. Her reflection stares back. "It took me a lot of years to get the sound of Jimmy's scream out of my head." She shakes her head. "I hate this house...yeah."
January 14, 1998
Before they begin their deliberations, the jurors in the trial of Frank "Little Bang" Vigil Jr. observe a moment of silence for the murdered girl. Brandaline Rose DuVall.
Never in their worst imaginings, not even after warnings from both the prosecutors and defense attorneys at jury selection, did the four women and eight men expect to hear anything so grim. Pancho, he told Danny Boy to get out of the way and put that broom in her butt. He was laughing. She was crying, 'It hurts, don't do that.'
During a break in Jose Martinez's testimony, the jury didn't witness Brandy's grandmother, Rose Vasquez, moaning in the hallway outside the courtroom--Oh, dear God, dear God--as her family tried to dissuade her from going back in. To skip the rest of his bizarre, nauseating, podium-pounding account of the gang rape of fourteen-year-old Brandy. There was blood everywhere...I thought the bitch was on the rag. Rose waved them off. Brandy was her youngest granddaughter; they had been particularly close. She had to be there, no matter how much it hurt.
But day after day, the jurors couldn't help but see the grieving family weeping in the front rows as the prosecution paraded its witnesses--dressed in jail jumpsuits, handcuffs and shackles--in and out of the courtroom.
The gang members who'd found the girl at a bus stop on South Federal Boulevard a little before midnight on May 30, 1997, and invited her to a party: the Warren brothers, David and Maurice, and Jacob "Smiley" Casados. They had all pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault and agreed to testify in exchange for first-degree-murder charges being dropped.
And Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana, who'd pleaded guilty to two second-degree-murder charges for the same deal. In a month he'd be taking the stand again, this time against Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas for the murder of another girl, Venus Montoya, a year earlier.
"I did not look at her face. I didn't know her name," Quintana had testified.
"What was she to you that night?" Deputy District Attorney Hal Sargent asked. "What was she to your gang?"
"She was a girl that supposedly was going to be down to screw everybody."
"You care much about what she thought that night?"
Quintana shrugged and shook his head. "Other people took control of that situation if she didn't want to...We were all in agreement to take her out."
"When you say 'take her out,' you're not talking about taking her someplace?" Sargent clarified. "You're talking about killing her?"
Quintana nodded. "Not out to dinner."
"What do you think about your role in the killing of a fourteen-year-old girl?"
"I'm guilty," Quintana said, as he tried to wipe tears from his face with his manacled hands.
"How does that make you feel?"
"Shouldn't have happened," he said, his voice hardly louder than the sounds of sorrow in the gallery.
And finally, there was Jose "Uncle Joe" Martinez, the uncle of Daniel Martinez Jr., who'd be tried later for the same crime. He testified as Vigil's family, his friends from the old neighborhood around 27th and California, glared at him. "They was possessed by the fuckin' devil," he said.
Although Judge Michael Villano admonished Jose to quit the theatrics and just answer the questions, he managed to squeeze out some tears as he described how much he loved "little Frankie." Then he accused Vigil, as had all the others, of being the first to say that Brandy must die.
"Where was Little Bang?"
"Standing there...laughing, like this was a big old fuckin' joke."
But in the end, Frank Vigil sealed his own fate--with a letter he'd written from his jail cell to Antonio "Boom" Martinez, Danny's brother, before the trial:
Hey dog wats up...I guess that bitch ass nigger Zig is tryin to pin that other shit on Speed. He's trying to sing. I'm the one going out like a trix ass bitch, Blood. I'm a real nigga like you and Pancho.
I gest that only God can judge me now...This is still westside till I die.
Defense attorney Randy Canney called no witnesses. There was no one who'd been at the house that night left to dispute the claim that his client had been the first to suggest they kill the girl.
In closing, he could argue only that sixteen-year-old Frank Vigil was too drunk and too intimidated by the bigger, older members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods to try to stop what happened. That the prosecution witnesses were lying to "save their own skins." That the prosecutors had "cut deals and brought five witnesses in here while truth and justice went out the door."
But in his closing, Deputy District Attorney Mark Randall countered: "Frank Vigil was not afraid of them; he is one of them. In his letter, he proclaims himself a Blood. He's protecting the organization. 'I'm a real nigger, like you and Pancho.'"
It takes the jury less than six hours to reject Canney's assertions. As they shuffle back into the courtroom one last time, many of the jurors are in tears. They gaze sympathetically at Brandy's family and avoid looking at Frank Vigil, who sits staring at the table in front of him, pale and mute. He lifts his head only when the judge asks for the verdict forms.
"In regard to counts one and two...first-degree murder...guilty," Villano says.
Brandy's mother, Angela Metzger, stifles a sob and buries her face in her hands. Rose Vasquez cries quietly, her shoulders shaking as her husband, Paul, puts an arm around her and wipes at his own eyes with his other hand.
Across the aisle, Frank Vigil's mother, Sally, fights to maintain her composure while tears roll down her cheeks. Other family members and friends cry out and collapse in each other's arms.
Then, strangely, Frank Vigil turns to the jury and begins to smile and nod. Is he frightened and trying not to show it, as his lawyer thinks? Or is this his idea of going out like a trix ass bitch?
While Antonio was locked up at Lookout Mountain, Theresa remembers, she visited him at least once a week. She'd come to realize that only at Lookout, under her friend Lonnie Lynn's watchful eye, was her son able to finally just be a boy. She'd never forget the day she arrived and saw Antonio outside playing. He looked so young and carefree, running back and forth across the field, yelling and laughing with boys he'd probably exchanged bullets with on the outside. This is the way it's supposed to be.
Theresa had met Lynn, a six-foot, nine-inch former pro-basketball player, several years before when she was working as a cook. At the time, she'd asked him to speak to her sons, particularly fourteen-year-old Danny, who was getting in trouble at school. But it hadn't done much good. There'd been too little of Lonnie in their lives, just as there'd been too little of Bill Rollins and far too much gang pressure. We're your family. We're your homeboys. We're the ones you can trust. Who else is going to give you the means to money, ho's and clothes?
After Antonio was sentenced, Theresa had again called on Lynn, now a counselor at Lookout, and begged him to watch out for her boy.
The first reports from Lynn were frightening. The Crips at the detention center outnumbered the Bloods two to one, and they were waiting for Antonio. "Hey, there's the motherfucker who shot our homeboy!" someone yelled when they brought him through the gates in handcuffs and shackles. The boys inside the dormitories had begun beating on their windows. "It sounded like a storm," Lynn told her. "'We gonna git you, Boom.'"
But Lynn, who'd started Lookout's first gang counseling group to find common ground between Bloods and Crips, skinheads and blacks, arranged a truce. And so Antonio had quietly done his thirteen months, going to class every day and working on his art.
Danny, too, was doing better. Living with Bill, he'd even received his high-school equivalency degree. But Danny got homesick and returned to Denver when Pancho was getting out of Lookout Mountain, in early summer 1990.
When Danny enrolled at the Colorado Institute of Art to study broadcast journalism, Theresa dared to hope. He had always been a people person with a gift for gab; she even secured a federal grant to help him pay for school. But before she could put it in his bank account, she had to send it back: Danny had dropped out of school.
His girlfriend, Terry, was pregnant with twins. Her family thought the right thing for him to do was to go to work to support their children. So he got a job working as a busboy, but that didn't last long. There was more money in dealing drugs.
"He had the connections," Theresa recalls. "Even when he'd say, 'Okay, that's the last one, I'm not doing this anymore,' there'd be a telephone call for 'just one more time.' It was appealing--go pick something up from Point A and deliver it to Point B and make a thousand or five thousand dollars."
So Danny was up to his old tricks when Antonio was finally released from Lookout Mountain after thirteen months, in August 1990. As he got in his mother's car to go home, back to 2727 California, Antonio scooted over next to her. He suddenly lifted his hand to cover his eyes. She asked what was wrong.
"Mom, I can't do it. I want to go back."
Theresa pauses to let the memory pass. Her dark-brown eyes are wet and shiny. Behind her stands the house that symbolizes all that has gone wrong.
They named their gang after that house. The Deuce-Seven. And now where were they? Little Frankie sentenced in February 1998, just three days shy of his seventeenth birthday, to spend the rest of his life in prison. Pancho going on trial that fall, maybe to face the death penalty. And Danny set for trial a few months after that...all for what the Deuce-Seven had done to that little girl.
Now Antonio was out there, trying to stay out of trouble. Unprotected, most of the members of his set dead or in prison.
"He was safe and happy when he was locked up," Theresa remembers. "You know, I sometimes believe that a lot of these kids think that way."
March 1, 1998
"What do you say after you kill the nineteen-year-old mother of a four-year-old boy? What do you say after you've blown the right side of her face off with a semi-automatic assault rifle?
"What do you say if she's someone you did not even know?"
Deputy District Attorney Sargent pauses in front of the jury, then walks over toward the defense table and points at Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas.
"If you're this man, what you say is, 'I smoked the bitch.'"
Twenty-two-year-old Ornelas watches Sargent like a hawk watches a field mouse. Only this time, he is not the predator but the prey.
Ornelas is on trial for first-degree murder, with the added sentence-enhancer of "with extreme indifference for human life." The life of Venus Montoya.
"Why did Alejandro kill Venus?" Sargent asks, then answers. "Tragically, the fact is, this had absolutely nothing to do with her. He was looking for an informant named Salvino Martinez."
On July 19, 1996, after a night of drinking, Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr. and Alejandro Ornelas had changed into dark clothing and gone hunting for Salvino. Alejandro's older brother, Gerard, was driving.
Word on the street was that Sal was the "confidential informant" who'd turned in the Martinez brothers (no relation), Danny and Antonio, for selling marijuana. And on these streets, a snitch had to die, even if he was another Blood.
The Ornelas brothers had their own reasons for going after Sal. They were sure that the hefty six-footer had opened fire on their mother's house with an assault rifle. And that he'd threatened their sister with a shotgun.
Add to that the fact that they just plain didn't like him. Salvino may have been a Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Blood, but he wasn't a Deuce-Seven. Now they referred to him as "Sal Snitcho."
The hunters drove to a low-rent apartment complex off Sheridan Boulevard in Lakewood. An uncle of the Ornelas brothers had reported seeing Salvino at one of the apartments. Number 52.
That apartment was rented to Venus Montoya, a pretty, nineteen-year-old high-school dropout who'd moved in with her four-year-old son, Angel, and a roommate. Venus had been there only two weeks, but already she was complaining to her twin sister, Vanessa, that she wanted out. The complex had a reputation as a gang hangout, and she was beginning to think she'd made a bad choice.
The girls' grandmother, Becky Estrada, had raised them and their youngest brother after their 21-year-old mother died of an overdose when the twins were just eight months old. Becky had watched out for the girls for almost two decades now, and she wasn't about to stop. She'd told Venus she didn't like the apartment's location, but Venus wanted to make a life on her own.
On July 15, Venus called her grandmother. She'd had a frightening dream about "two devils" trying to get at her, and even after waking up, she'd been unable to shake her fear. "I want you to come and pick up Angel," she'd said. "I don't want my baby to get hurt."
So Becky had taken the child back home. A few days later Venus had come by; she and Vanessa were going house-hunting. As she got ready to leave, Venus had held her arms open to the woman she called Mom.
"I want a hug," she'd said, pouting. "Don't you love me no more?"
Becky had pulled the pretty girl to her, strangely reluctant to let her go. "I will always love you," she said at last.
The devils arrived at 3 a.m. the next morning, just minutes after Salvino Martinez left the small party that was winding down inside apartment Number 52. Venus was sitting on a daybed, in full view of the screen door, as Quintana and Alejandro Ornelas approached carrying a 9mm handgun and an SKS assault rifle.
"Also sitting on the bed was her boyfriend, John," Sargent tells the jury. "He had asked her to marry him, and she had accepted. It should have been the happiest night of her life...but it was her last."
There was the sound of a blast. Instinctively, John dropped to the floor and reached up to pull his fiancee down. "At about the same time, Venus's head exploded," Sargent says. "Brain matter and blood filled the air."
In the gallery behind the prosecution table, Vanessa lays her head on her grandmother's shoulder.
Across the aisle, Alejandro studies his fingernails. His attorneys, former judge Michael Enwall and co-counsel Toby Cleaver, scribble notes on a legal pad. Behind them, Ornelas's friends and family listen impassively. Several of the young women have babies with them.
Nineteen shots were fired into the apartment, all from the assault rifle, some passing through the walls into bedrooms where other people were sleeping. Ten of the bullets struck Venus. "Miraculously, of the eight people in the apartment, she was the only one killed," Sargent says.
Listening at the prosecution table is Sargent's co-prosecutor, Brian Boatwright, and Lakewood detective Scott Richardson. The detective had been assigned to the case the night of the murder and had seen for himself what a high-velocity, 7.62-caliber bullet could do to a human head. The girl was unrecognizable. Her family members, who heard the news from a neighbor, were kept away from the body when they showed up en masse.
Working with the Denver Police Department Gang Unit, Richardson soon identified the suspects through informants. He seized the assault rifle from the home of the Ornelases' mother; ballistics tests had proved it was the murder weapon. But Alejandro Ornelas and Quintana had their alibi ready. Some "Baby Gs"--young gangster wannabes--had taken the gun and later returned it.
The detective turned up a couple of independent witnesses who had seen two men lurking outside the apartment complex. Their identification of Ornelas and Quintana was shaky--the witnesses were frightened of getting involved in a gang killing--but combined with all of the other evidence, it was pretty damning.
Still, Richardson wanted a conviction, not just a trial. What he needed was for someone in the gang to get in trouble and roll over on his comrades. For all their big talk about loyalty, most of them could be counted on to snitch as soon as they started looking at time behind bars. That was how the gang unit had gotten Salvino to set up Danny and Antonio Martinez in the first place.
Richardson even called Danny Martinez to see if he could shake something loose. In the background, he could hear Danny telling other gang members, "Lakewood po po's want to talk to me about Zag and Speed and that shit." Then Danny turned his attention back to the detective. "I don't want to talk to you," he said. Taunting him, he added that he knew about the murder but would go to prison before he turned into a snitch.
Then on June 16, 1997, almost a year later, Sammy Quintana and some of his pals were arrested for the murder two weeks earlier of a fourteen-year-old girl, Brandy DuVall. Quintana sat in jail for two days and then started talking. Not just about DuVall, but about Venus Montoya, too.
Alejandro fired the assault rifle, Quintana said. He himself had pointed the handgun, but the clip fell out before he could shoot. That clip had been found at the scene.
At Alejandro Ornelas's trial, Richardson sits within reach of the SKS assault rifle that's been marked as People's Exhibit 38. Pinned to the detective's tie is a small, gold figurine: an angel given to him by Venus's family as thanks for his efforts in catching the killer of Angel's mother.
"There's no question Sam Quintana's motivation was the possibility of the death penalty in not one, but two murders," Sargent tells the jury. "He also told us that his conscience was bothering him."
The prosecutor knows that as bad as his witness will appear to the jurors, he must make the defendant look worse. No angels for witnesses... deals with the devil. He contrasts the image of Quintana wrestling with his conscience and Ornelas bragging that he'd "smoked the bitch" when Ornelas didn't even know who she was.
Sargent warns the jurors that during this trial, they will hear about the "ugly side of life...I don't expect you to like it, but you'll be exposed to a world where someone can kill an innocent nineteen-year-old mother of a little boy and not be ashamed."
Alejandro Ornelas scowls but doesn't look up as Enwall objects to the prosecutor's characterization of his client.
"BOOOOM!" A young white man emerges from the back of Mixed Up Creations, a Colfax Avenue T-shirt shop, to greet Antonio. After a brief flurry of hand jive, they get down to business.
"I like this...and this," the store's owner says, looking through one of Antonio's drawing portfolios. A sleepy-eyed fish. A cluster of mushrooms reminiscent of the dancing ones in Fantasia, except these are the hallucinogenic kind. Big-breasted, scantily clad comic-book women. Hip-hop characters.
"You ought to do this one," Antonio says. It's a gangbanger with a smoking .45-caliber handgun.
The shop owner shakes his head. "I don't want to sell violent T-shirts to kids."
"Then I suppose you won't want this one?" Antonio says, and laughs. Another alien-looking gangster, this one holding an AK-47 assault rifle.
The shop owner turns the page to a pencil drawing of two hands templed in prayer. "Jesus sells good in the ghetto," Antonio suggests. "Everybody's lookin' for the Lord in the ghetto."
Instead they settle on a skateboard/snowboard character for a new line of T-shirts. Antonio tells the store's owner to be expecting an invitation to a party when he graduates from college in June. "I'll be leaving a couple days later," he says. "A friend's goin' to set me up in a new tattoo shop."
The party will be at 2727 California.
"Sounds cool, Boom," the shop owner says. In this setting, the nickname carries no threat. It's not Boom the gangster but Boom the artist.
When Antonio got out of Lookout, he went to live with his aunt and grandmother in Westminster. He enrolled in high school there, only to find that the school wouldn't accept any credits from the classes he'd attended so religiously at Lookout. He'd have to start where he left off. But even that wasn't enough to deter him.
Then one of the metro gang-unit officers spotted him in class. "Did you know that you've got a notorious gang member sitting here?" he asked the students. "This is Boom."
Soon after, Antonio's mother was notified that he'd have to withdraw from school. Although Antonio hadn't done anything wrong, school authorities said they had an obligation to protect the other students. If a rival gang found out Antonio was there, they might try to shoot him and hit an innocent bystander in the process.
It seemed so unfair. Antonio was a good student, got good grades, followed the school rules. To Theresa, this was just another way the system had of trying to force gang members out of the mainstream. The further they fell behind at school, the more likely they were to drop out and be left with nothing but gangbanging. Like Danny.
Antonio wasn't so easy to get rid of, however. He moved back to 2727 California--Danny was living there now, along with Raquel and Theresa--and enrolled in the Denver Public School's Career Education Center, an alternative school that stresses vocational education.
"Being locked up made me smarter," he explains. "I didn't like having to knock on the door to be let out to go to the bathroom. I didn't like other people making decisions for me. I knew that if I went to prison, I would die or become worse than I already was to survive. I'd have to do so many crimes in prison, they'd never let me out."
Antonio was smarter, but he was no saint. He wanted to make money, and the only way he knew how was by selling drugs. Since he was still in a gang, it would be easy. But he decided he wouldn't "shoot someone for no reason," he remembers; it drew too much attention from the police.
"Now, if you're my homeboy and someone is giving you trouble, then I have nothing better to do than shoot someone for you," he adds. "Or I'd shoot you if you threatened me. But I stopped doing stupid things, like violence just for the sake of violence."
He played it low-key. Wearing a red bandanna in his back pocket, he concluded, was advertising to the cops and other gangs. He didn't need to do that; he already had a name. "I didn't need to be letting people know 'I'm a gangster--stay away.' They already knew it."
But things had changed while Antonio was in Lookout. The Mexican boys weren't as welcome in the black Park Hill gang anymore. Back before Antonio got locked up, he, Pancho and Danny had referred to themselves as the Deuce-Seven in honor of the house at 2727 California. They'd even tattooed their arms with "Deuce-Seven," under which they wrote "CMG," followed by "Bloods."
Now the CMG was getting too big. "No one knew anybody else," he recalls. "There was no way to get everybody together." Small groups were breaking off, forming their own subsets under the umbrella of CMG Bloods, or B-dogs, as they called themselves.
So Antonio, Pancho and Danny did the same thing. Like the rest of the gangs, the members of the Deuce-Seven made their money selling drugs. And when they weren't selling drugs, they were robbing each other. It wasn't just fighting with the Crips or the Inca Boys, or whatever other group they came in contact with. They were even robbed a couple of times by other Bloods... friends of the friends who'd brought them into the gang in the first place.
"It got worked out," Antonio says. "I mean, it was all dirty money, anyway. It wasn't like whatever we had belonged to us. So we weren't going to go kill some other Bloods over money we had taken from somebody else."
Although the house at 2727 California was ransacked a couple of times and shot at more frequently, they didn't worry. Until one night, when the violence boiled over a few minutes after the boys left to visit their uncle, Jose Martinez.
Their sister, Raquel, was alone in the house with her newborn daughter, Danielle. She was walking down the stairs with the baby when a gunman in a car outside sprayed the house with an automatic weapon, sending bullets and bits of wood, plaster and glass flying inside.
Theresa arrived home a few minutes before her sons. Police cars surrounded the block. There was a neat line of bullet holes stitched across the front of the house above the porch awning. It was a miracle that neither Raquel nor the baby had been hit.
Danny and Antonio seethed. They knew the police wouldn't even look for whoever had done this; they'd never found whoever had shot their Uncle Jimmy a couple of years earlier. Instead the family was told that if someone shot at their house again, the property would be seized as a public nuisance.
The boys were plotting their revenge when Theresa confronted them. "There will be no retribution," she said. "You're the ones who joined the gang."
When her sons protested that they couldn't just let someone shoot up their house, she retorted, "What did you expect? This is the consequence for what you do...You put us all in danger. Jimmy. Raquel. Danielle."
Remembering this, Antonio pauses. "We felt bad, knowing we brought this on our family. We were doing a lot more to our mom than we realized.
"I mean, we were used to her going into a rage about the things we were doing. She'd hit us and throw things and break them...and we'd just say, 'You're being silly, breaking your own shit when there's nothin' you can do about it. It's already happened.' We were glad that she had straightened her own life out, that she was going in the right direction, taking care of herself. But me? I was too far gone to listen."
Theresa recognized that, and she'd had enough. "That's it. That's it," she said. "I'm getting rid of the house." No amount of pleading from her sons could change her mind.
Once again, 2727 California was closed up. While Theresa moved into her own apartment, the boys went searching for a place of their own. Antonio wanted to live near the Career Education Center so he could walk to school. When they found a place, it seemed like a sign.
The address: 2727 Clay Street.
Not that they always stayed there. "We lived the high life. Money, ho's and clothes," Antonio remembers. "We stayed, sometimes for several days at a time, in the presidential suites of Denver's best hotels. We'd be drunk and high the whole time...They didn't care who we were. Our money was green, and we paid for everything in cash."
Their neighbors on Clay cared. They called the cops and their city councilwoman.
"They didn't like all these young guys, who didn't seem to have jobs but drove nice cars and sat in the backyard talking on cellular phones," Antonio recalls. "We weren't doing nothin' wrong. I mean, we weren't dealin' drugs out of the house. We weren't shooting anybody in the front yard or the backyard.
"What I think they really didn't like was all these black guys, some of them pretty obviously gang members, comin' over to visit."
The Denver cops had been after the Deuce-Seven for a long time, without much luck. "Some fool would accuse us of something, and somebody'd go visit them and say, 'I hear you talked about Bang or Boom or Panch. Well, you fucked up, and you better change your mind. And since you gave a statement, now you better go tell the motherfuckers that you did it.'
"There were a few fools who decided they would rather take the blame for something they didn't do than stand by their statements about us," Antonio remembers. "So we were beating a lot of dumb-shit counts on account of 'mistaken identity.'"
He smiles. "And there were a couple of times we really weren't guilty."
Antonio was awakened one Saturday morning in July 1992 by loud knocking on the back door. He went to see who was there and was met by police officers with guns drawn who ordered him back into the house.
"Some of the kids in the neighborhood were shooting off firecrackers," he says. "But, of course, our neighbors reported that we were shooting guns in the backyard...And there we were in our boxers and T-shirts, trying to wake up."
The occupants of the house were taken to the backyard in handcuffs and placed on their stomachs. Meanwhile, five officers went into the house without a warrant and began searching the premises. "They found a paintball gun under the couch...acted like it was some sort of nuclear weapon." But no one was arrested, and the cops told Antonio and his friends that they were free to go back inside.
The next night the police began pulling over cars that stopped by the house. This time a few people were arrested on outstanding traffic warrants, but most were let go.
Then, a day later, Antonio, his Uncle Jimmy and a cousin were in the house when they saw police cars suddenly appear at the front and back. This time the cops kicked in the back door and arrested everybody...for trespassing.
The police took their time searching the house. Some even sat on the couch to watch television while their prisoners waited in the kitchen with handcuffs on. But one of the officers climbed into the attic and found a shotgun. Antonio concedes that the gun was his, but, he says, "Who cares? They didn't have any business in my attic. We're supposed to follow the law, but they're not?
"The cops never had any warrants," he says. "They kept saying that the neighbors' complaints gave them 'probable cause.'"
The trespassing charge was dropped when the property manager said they had a right to be in the house. Antonio and the others were bonded out by midnight. The next morning, Antonio returned to the house to get his things. He was still trying to go to school every day, and all of this police attention was threatening his graduation plans.
As he drove away, he was pulled over by a motorcycle patrolman who'd been waiting in the alley behind the house.
Antonio had slipped up. "I don't know why, but I had a 9 millimeter on the seat next to me," he says, shaking his head. "It wasn't even hidden...I had bought it from a crackhead who stole it from someone's house. So now I was lookin' at felony theft by receiving."
Back in a jail cell, Antonio realized that, legally or not, the police were going to keep coming after him until they could put him in prison for a long time. And he wouldn't be able to attend school or be an artist if he was spending all his time in a cell or a courtroom.
"I finally said to myself, 'You know what? I give up. I'm gonna stop sellin' drugs. I'm gonna stop bangin' and doin' any kind of illegal shit. I give up. I quit.'"
The trial of Alejandro Ornelas lasts four days. After Sargent's opening, defense lawyer Enwall gets his turn. He begins by attacking Sammy Quintana, "the state's star witness." The evidence, he says, will point to Quintana, who "held the head of another girl...while her throat was slit," as the man who also shot Venus Montoya.
"He lied to get a deal," says Enwall, peering at the jury over the half-glasses perched on the end of his nose.
After a night of drinking, Quintana and his client had come up with a "half-baked" plan to kill Salvino Martinez. It was Quintana who carried the assault rifle, Enwall says. "Alejandro Ornelas is guilty of a crime...He is not guilty of first-degree murder."
After Enwall takes his seat, the prosecution uses a series of witnesses to paint an emotional portrait of violence. Vanessa Montoya in tears as she's asked to identify a photograph of her twin. Survivors from the apartment who vividly recall the acrid gunsmoke, the sight of brain matter hitting the wall, the smell of blood. The image of Venus's fiance, Johnny, lying across her body, crying, "No, don't do this to me," then taking off before the police arrive because there are warrants out for his arrest.
The second day begins with the defense lawyers asking, outside the jury's presence, that prosecution witness Max "M-dog" Archuleta be reminded that he is not to say anything about first meeting Ornelas when the latter was in prison "for killing a Crip."
Then Archuleta, tattoos visible on his neck and wrist, is brought in and warned to avoid the topic of Ornelas's prison record. He nods nervously. He's in a witness-protection program and feels he's risking his life talking at all--much less testifying that he often saw Ornelas with an assault rifle.
Sargent picks up People's Exhibit 38 and carelessly swings the muzzle past Venus's family. They cringe. That's the gun, Archuleta says. He identifies the gun in a picture from a gang photo album that Detective Richardson found; Ornelas is holding the rifle in his mother's backyard.
Alejandro Ornelas and Danny Martinez had talked almost daily about wanting to get Salvino Martinez for snitching. "They said, 'The rat's gonna get it,'" Archuleta testifies.
"Why would Speed care if Sal snitched on Danny?" Sargent asks.
"That's his OG," Archuleta answers, using the gang expression of respect for an older gangster.
A couple of days after the killing, Archuleta says, he was visiting Alejandro at his mother's house when his friend bragged about shooting up the girl's apartment. "He said he 'smoked the bitch.'" Speed was upset with Quintana because he'd dropped the clip from the 9mm and was afraid the police would find fingerprints.
At the beginning of the third day, Ornelas comes into the courtroom and smiles at a well-dressed middle-aged man sitting with the rest of his family members, who seem to defer to him in the hallways and courtroom. The man nods and smiles back, a benediction.
After Ornelas is seated, Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana enters. He's dressed in a jail jumpsuit, hobbling along in shackles. The defendant sneers as his former friend passes and stands before judge Thomas Woodford.
Quintana has difficulty raising his right hand to be sworn in because his cuffed hands are connected by a short lead to a chain-link belly band. As he takes a seat at the witness stand, the well-dressed man sitting with Ornelas's family raises his hand and makes a shooting gesture toward Sammy.
Quintana's father sits in the back of the courtroom, a dark blazer covering his Denver County sheriff's deputy uniform. He's already had to listen to his son, in the Frank Vigil trial, describe his part in the killing of one girl. Now he must hear about his boy's role in the murder of a second.
His boy now testifies that he was sitting in his jail cell after his arrest for DuVall's murder when he decided to approach the authorities. He was facing a first-degree-murder charge and knew the likely consequences were life without parole or the death penalty.
"Was that the only reason?" Sargent asks.
"Prior to being arrested," Quintana says, "my life was going downhill, and my heart was speaking to me to break free...to do what's right for once."
One night he and Alejandro had gone to the house of another CMG Blood, Jevaun "Gangster J" Ivory. It was obvious that someone was going to get shot that night, beginning with Gangster J's Rottweiler, which tried to take a bite out of Alejandro's leg while they were standing on the porch.
"Speed pulled out his gun, a .38, and pointed it at the dog," Quintana recalls. "He said, 'I'll shoot your dog.'"
"'You shoot my dog and I'll shoot you,'" Quintana says Ivory responded, going into the house to get a 9mm handgun in case he had to do just that. But Quintana stepped between the two. "We got problems with other people; let's not take out ourselves," he said.
Gangster J then loaned them the 9mm, and they took it with them as they searched for Salvino Martinez. They drove to one address where they thought he might be, and Alejandro emptied the gun into a car parked there. Then they drove to the apartment complex where one of Alejandro's uncles had reported seeing Salvino hanging out.
They saw a large, shadowy figure standing in one doorway that they thought might be their target. But first, they decided, they needed more weapons, so they went to Alejandro's mother's house to get the assault rifle and change into dark clothing.
Then they returned to the apartment complex. Twelve feet from the screen door to Number 52, they could see a young woman sitting on the daybed. "Alejandro began to fire," Quintana testifies. "It was very loud. I saw a woman taking many bullets...There was a lot of screaming."
As he sprayed bullets into the apartment, Alejandro walked toward the door. Quintana raised his gun, but it wouldn't shoot.
"Were you pointing at the girl?" Sargent asks.
"No," Quintana says, shaking his head. "Just pointing."
After he emptied his gun, Alejandro turned and ran. As Quintana moved to follow him, the clip, which had been meant for a different gun, fell to the ground. He couldn't find it in the dark, panicked and left it behind.
Although the prosecution can't bring up the defendant's past, the defense is bound by no such restrictions regarding witnesses. During cross-examination, Enwall points out that Quintana's first felony was in 1992 for assault with a deadly weapon. He hammers away, trying to get Quintana to admit that he was the one carrying the assault rifle. Quintana's deal isn't just that he has to testify truthfully; he also can't be the one who shot Venus or stabbed Brandy DuVall. Otherwise, the deal is off.
But Quintana won't budge. "I'm not lying, sir."
After Quintana steps down, Richardson is called to the stand. Informants have reported that a "hit" was put out on the detective while he was investigating the case. He's spent a good part of the trial staring down Ornelas family members and supporters who've tried to stare down the prosecution's witnesses.
The detective recounts how he caught Ornelas in 57 lies over several interviews. The defendant denied having anything to do with the killing, he testifies, but also complained about Salvino Martinez being such a good friend of the police.
Salvino had pulled a "gauge," a shotgun, on his sister and blasted his mother's home, Ornelas told Richardson. "Salvino shoots at us and nothin' happens...All the bullet holes in my mama's house are from him."
Reading from a transcript of one interview, Richardson recalls how he told the defendant he knew he was lying: "You're sinking, Alejandro."
"I'm not lying," the defendant had protested. "I was not the triggerman, and I don't know nothin' about it."
Late Spring 1998
Antonio sits at a drawing table in his garden-level apartment. The shades are drawn, and the only light is the lamp that illuminates his work.
He rubs his face as if he could wipe away the stress he feels when he thinks about his brother and the others. "When I was a youngster, I didn't care a lot about what happened to me. I didn't think about how my grandmother and my mother would miss me if I died or went to prison.
"But sitting in that cell, I realized that I did care. I didn't want to spend my life in prison. I didn't want my children or my mother to have to visit me there. I didn't want to die."
Still, stopping was much harder than starting. Antonio was still a Deuce-Seven, and even though he knew Danny and Pancho would back him up, they couldn't always be around. Antonio found himself constantly looking over his shoulder.
After he'd bonded out of jail on the gun charge, he moved in with his mother. There he was joined by his first cousin, Sammy Quintana Jr., whose parents had divorced.
The Quintanas had tried hard to get their children away from the old neighborhood, to give them the best of everything. Sammy Jr. was a soccer star and a member of the all-city marching band. But he still ended up in a gang.
"That was, of course, all our fault: 'If Danny and Antonio had left him alone, he would have been okay,'" says Antonio. "But Sammy was his own fault. We didn't even know it when he first got into a gang. He was selling drugs and doing a lot of acid with his high-school buddies out in the suburbs.
"Then he takes a shot at somebody in a car over in Bear Valley. Gets probation, then gets caught with a gun and does ten months in Buena Vista. This is all long before he starts hangin' with us...but it's our fault. Then his dad kicked him out of the house, and he had nowhere else to go, so he moved in with Mom and me."
Because Sammy was family, he was allowed into the Deuce-Seven without the usual pain of getting "beat in." He liked the trappings of gangbanging--the gold chains, the red shirts, pants and sneakers--that the others had mostly grown out of. "He wanted everyone to know he was a B-dog," Antonio remembers. "A violent gangster."
The Deuce-Seven had begun to attract other Hispanic Bloods who felt out of place with the black sets. Many were related to the original members: Danny, Antonio and Pancho. David and Maurice Warren, more weekend warriors than hardcore gang members, were cousins of Pancho's.
Frank Vigil Jr. was just a kid, like they had been, when he asked to be let in. "We didn't encourage him," Antonio says. "In fact, we tried to discourage him. But he was going to do it no matter what--better he do it with us, where we could kind of look out for him."
Other gang members came and went--sometimes not of their own accord, like Alejandro Ornelas.
"Alejandro was a friend of a friend," Antonio recalls. "He got sent to Lookout after I got out...two years on a manslaughter rap. Some Crips jumped out of a car and started chasing him down an alley, so he smoked one of them. The Crips originally thought it was me that did it. They was callin' and sayin' what they were going to do, and I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.' So I wanted to meet him when he got out."
But Ornelas wasn't free more than a few days before he got caught with a gun on school property and sentenced to a year in federal prison. When he got out, he aligned himself with the Deuce-Seven and was soon joined by his older brother, Gerard.
"The problem for a lot of guys who want to be in a gang is, they can't handle the stress and the danger," Antonio says. "The Ornelas brothers were more like us. No fear. And they were willing to be as down and violent as us."
Antonio was still going to school every day. The shotgun charge was dropped, but he was fighting the handgun charge from the arrest at 2727 Clay as well as two attempted-murder charges. "Some guys got shot at a car wash," he says. "They knew who the driver was and thought I was the shooter. I wasn't."
Although he had sworn off criminal activities, his reputation nearly got him kicked out of school. He credits Career Education Center vice principal Debbie Williams and commercial-art teacher Brad Vickers with keeping him in school.
Once word got out that the infamous Boom was no longer gangbanging, some other students tried to take advantage of that by trying to run him over with a car. "Fuck 'em," he says. "I wasn't hiding. I just wanted to go to school and be left alone.
"But I was still from the set, and some of my homeboys went over and fucked 'em up...Debbie Williams pulled me out of class and said, 'I hear you're with a gang' and that she wouldn't put up with it.
"I told her that I was a gang member when I woke up and when I went to sleep at night. That I was a gang member who goes to school and gets good grades, but I could not stop being a gang member. It's who I was. But that I wanted to stay out of trouble and stay in school."
Antonio rubs his face. "She could have suspended me--a lot of others would have. And I know it wasn't easy on her. A lot of the teachers didn't like me, not even my counselor. But she took a chance."
Vickers saw something special in Antonio, too. "He said, 'I'm not just blowing smoke up your ass...you got real talent,'" Antonio remembers. "What he said stuck with me, and I went from drawing pictures of gangsters blowing the heads off each other to commercial art."
The teacher's confidence in Antonio paid off when his work took first place in a regional commercial-art contest. "I always thought that maybe I had talent," he says. "But here was someone who knew what it took telling me that I could do it.
"He was the first person outside my family and my homeboys who ever tried to help me...Fact is, until him, all I ever got from the police and district attorneys was that I was a piece of shit...that I was going to be in prison or dead."
Antonio doesn't like to appear weak. He has to blink a few times and rub his face before he can go on. "I began thinking about tryin' to get into a good art school." He pauses again to blink. "I owe a lot to Ms. Williams and Mr. Vickers."
The attempted-murder charges were dropped after Antonio agreed to take a lie-detector test and passed it. He was given a deferred sentence on the gun charge on the condition that he leave Colorado for a year.
That was fine with Antonio, who hoped to go to art school in California.
In June 1993, Antonio Martinez finally graduated from high school. He considered it his revenge toward those who told him he'd never amount to anything, who had tried to keep him out of school.
"I had seen my name on walls and police papers that I would be dead before I was eighteen," he says. "But here I was, graduating from high school, and I was nineteen years old.
"I think it scared them--the cops and the DAs--because I had done so much shit, and here I was alive and doing just fine."
The final day of the Ornelas trial begins with the jury out of the courtroom while Gerard "G-Loc" Ornelas attempts to withdraw his guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in exchange for the murder charges being dropped.
Prosecutor Brian Boatwright angrily denounces the attempt as "gamesmanship... Obviously, we think this is ridiculous." The judge says he'll consider the matter and get back to the attorneys.
As Gerard Ornelas is led away, he steals a look at the well-dressed man who's back in the spectator gallery. The man gives him a thumbs-up and a smile. Gerard nods weakly and hobbles out of the courtroom. (He will later accept the plea agreement.)
The prosecution has a few issues of its own. Apparently, Alejandro Ornelas has told one of the deputies working security that if he's convicted, he plans to force them to shoot him. Told that they'd just zap him with his security belt, he smirked and said, "Not if the belt's not on."
Ornelas, who has already been reprimanded for scratching 2-7 on a wall while waiting to be brought into the courtroom, is still smirking. Judge Woodford says he'll leave it to the deputies to take whatever security measures they deem necessary.
Finally the defense presents its case, mostly witnesses who testify to discrepancies about which of the two dark figures--the bigger one, Quintana, or the smaller one, Ornelas--ran from the scene with the assault rifle.
The surprise of the trial comes when Ornelas decides to testify. He's already in tears when he takes the stand, and his family cries along with him.
Carefully questioned by defense attorney Cleaver, who does not want to open the door for the prosecution to discuss "character issues," particularly his "peacefulness," Alejandro tells the jury that he was born and raised in Denver. He has an older sister, a younger sister and an older brother, Gerard. He also has a girlfriend and, at the time of Venus Montoya's murder, had two children.
That night began with an orgy of alcohol, he says. He drank a six-pack of sixteen-ounce beers, four shots of Remy Martin, two Amaretto Sours, part of a bottle of tequila and smoked some marijuana. He remembers only brief snatches of what happened after that. He doesn't remember changing into dark clothes or fetching the assault rifle from his mother's house, he says.
"Do you recall having a gun at Venus's apartment building?" Cleaver asks.
"No, I don't," he says, his voice breaking.
"Do you have a recollection of shooting Venus Montoya?"
"No, I don't."
"Did you shoot Venus Montoya?"
"I don't remember," he claims, sniffing loudly and reaching for a tissue.
"Are you afraid you might have?"
He nods, blows his nose. "Yes, 'cause I was there in the parking lot that night."
After Cleaver sits down, Sargent launches right in. "As far as you know, you shot Venus Montoya with an SKS assault rifle?"
"I don't remember."
"But you have no memory of not doing it?"
Sargent nods, then asks, "You shed tears when you took the stand?"
"But you never shed tears for Venus Montoya." It's a statement, not a question.
"How do you know that?"
"Answer the question," Sargent presses.
"Yes, I have," he says.
"Do you consider yourself an honest man?"
"In general," Sargent says.
"Before this situation...no."
Ornelas looks confused by this line of questioning, but it suddenly becomes clear where Sargent's going as he begins to recite the long list of lies Ornelas told Richardson when first asked about the killing and his gang affiliation.
"You lied 57 times," Sargent notes. "You lied because you didn't like the consequences of telling the truth."
"I was always taught, 'Don't tell the police nothing,'" Ornelas says.
In the spectator gallery, the well-dressed man nods and says, "That's right" loud enough to be heard throughout the courtroom. As his running commentary continues, the judge stops the proceedings and tells him to be quiet.
Sargent now brings up a rap song Ornelas wrote in prison in response to remarks Salvino Martinez had made to a newspaper reporter. In a November 1997 Westword article, Salvino had denied that he was a police informant. That rumor, he said, was spread by the police to set the gang members against each other and by members of the Deuce-Seven who were "jealous" of his drug-dealing enterprises. He accused the Deuce-Seven of showing up at parties and not only robbing those present, but putting "a gun to a girl's head and saying, 'You're gonna fuck me and all my homeboys'...I told them that shit with the women was going to catch up to them one of these days."
He claimed that the Deuce-Seven shot at him and that he may have returned fire. "Some of their cars got shot up, and somebody blew up Ornelas's mom's house...It might have been me, and maybe it wasn't.
"The funny thing is, they're all rollin' over on each other. They said I was a snitch, but they can hardly wait to snitch on each other."
Ornelas addressed his song to "Sal-snitcho: "Well, I'm back to set the record strait [sic]/to that punk ass snitch you know I hate. Your [sic] watching your back, now you gotta watch your front/Sooner or later you'll end up in the back of my trunk/I'm gonna start by telling the true facts and not fiction/about Salvino who ain't no good for nothing but snitchin'."
Sargent also introduces another "song" that Ornelas had intended for Sammy Quintana, in which he wrote about putting a "shank" through "the homey I thought I knew...It's not my fault you were facing the Death Penalty/You should of handled it and left out the homeys/And now you want to take us all down with you/Damn blood, you're through."
"I wrote that, yes," Ornelas concedes. "It's just a rap song; that's all it was."
The tears are gone; he's angry.
A baby cries in the gallery. Venus's family keeps reaching over to touch her twin, Vanessa, as if to connect with the girl who's no longer there.
"As far as you know, Sam Quintana is telling the absolute truth about everything that happened at that apartment?" Sargent asks.
"How can I say that?"
"So if I understand you, you were so drunk you didn't even hear gunshots."
"No, I didn't." After one more round of tears, Ornelas says, "Ever since this situation happened, I've tried to forget about it."
"I'll bet you have," someone in Venus's family says quietly.
Then it's over. Ornelas sits at the witness stand, his head down, until he's told to step down. The defense is done.
It takes this jury even less time to reach its verdict than the jury in Frank Vigil's trial. After just four hours, they send a message to the judge that they're ready. Word is sent to gather the lawyers and families.
After everyone is seated in the courtroom, the Jefferson County sheriff's Special Operations Team quietly assembles in the hall outside. They're in full riot gear.
When the judge says the word "guilty," the section behind Ornelas erupts. Alysha Abeyta, the mother of his children, begins screaming as other family members and supporters shout.
When Woodford orders that Abeyta be quiet or be removed, Ornelas yells, "Fuck you! What the fuck did you expect her to do?"
Deputies quickly subdue Ornelas, who continues to shout profanities.
As the riot squad enters the courtroom, the jurors are quickly escorted out a back door--and Ornelas's supporters vent their anger at Venus's stunned family. Detective Richardson moves to protect them, knocking over the drinking water on the prosecution table in the process.
One of Ornelas's female relatives uses both middle fingers to flip them off. "The fuckin' bitch deserved to die if she was hangin' out with snitches!" she screams as she's pulled from the courtroom by the riot squad.
Just as California pawned off its gang members on Denver by giving deferred sentences and bus tickets to those who left the state, Colorado gave the same deal to Antonio Martinez. His mother moved first, a week after his graduation; it took Antonio a couple of months to follow.
When Theresa asked what was keeping him, he had to admit that a girl he'd been seeing was having a baby. "I think it's mine," he said. He wanted to be there for the child's birth.
In California, Antonio got a job working at Kmart, selling shoes. It was the first real job he'd ever had. "I didn't even need it," he recalls. "I had plenty of money. But Mom got tired of me just hanging around, doing nothin' but drawing."
Of all the members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangsters, Antonio was the only one to ever visit Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles and introduce himself to the Bloods there. But the California gangs were not nearly so welcoming of strangers--especially a Mexican kid--as the gangs in Denver.
Antonio soon had company, though: Danny, now split from Terry, and Pancho moved out to California. Theresa marveled at how relaxed they were, walking unarmed and unafraid down the street to go to a store, something they could never have done safely in Denver. She hoped they'd all make new lives for themselves.
But Antonio, who'd made a lengthy visit to Denver to see his baby, Patricia, was still homesick. After his application to art school was denied, he was done with California. "Okay, let's go home," he told Theresa. Danny and Pancho followed soon after.
Back in Denver, Antonio was accepted to the Colorado Institute of Art, even receiving a federal grant to study. He was warned, however, that any felony drug charge would result in the forfeiture of the grant--no other crime, just drugs.
Danny, Pancho and Antonio had often talked about "going legitimate"--maybe starting a commercial-art company with Antonio doing the art, Pancho doing the grunt work and Danny using his people skills in "marketing."
It was a fun dream. "But Danny always wanted to be the older brother, in charge, the president of the company," Antonio says. That grated on Antonio, but he figured that someday his brother was going to need him worse than he needed his brother. That was part of the reason he'd refused to let anybody stop him from getting an education.
While the brothers sometimes talked about Danny getting away from "the life," it was increasingly clear that that life was all he had. There had been no Ms. Williams to keep Danny in school, no Mr. Vickers to encourage him, and no Lonnie Lynn, whom Antonio kept in touch with when he needed someone to talk to about making the right decisions.
He was working hard in school, but Antonio still hung out with Danny and Pancho--which meant he hung out with other members of the Deuce-Seven and CMG Bloods as well. But he found himself liking few of them, especially guys like Salvino Martinez, who talked big.
And then Antonio made the mistake of letting Danny use his apartment when he went off to school during the day. Danny made it his headquarters for drug sales, and one of the people he sold to was Salvino Martinez.
"They called him a 'confidential informant,'" Antonio scoffs. "But you'd have to be a moron not to know who the 'confidential informant' was once the attorneys got the paperwork. 'Confidential informant bought this amount, at this time, on this day.' Jesus."
Antonio was at school when the police kicked in his door and arrested Danny. They left a note in the apartment, telling Antonio to turn himself in.
The "confidential informant" said Antonio and Danny had sold him pot. "It was a lie," says Antonio. "I never sold him anything. But I think they didn't want just Bang--they wanted Boom and Bang...and that's what he gave them.
"It was fucked up, anyway. Salvino was trying to get out of some charges he was facing, so they get him to give up Danny and me. I mean, what kind of a system of justice is it that the police let someone off who they know had done the crime for someone they think has done a crime?"
Antonio was desperate and went on the run for almost a week. If he was convicted of a felony drug charge, he'd lose the grant and he could kiss his dreams of graduating from art school goodbye. But he also realized he couldn't go to school while he was a fugitive, so he got a lawyer. "I told him, 'I can't live on the run, I got shit to do," he recalls. "I turned myself in."
As angry as he was at Salvino, Antonio was just as mad at Danny. "We were in jail and I told him, 'This is fucked up, dude, and it's your fault.'"
Danny tried to shrug it off. "Nah, blood, it's cool." After all, they'd always taken their lickings together.
Antonio realized then that as much as he loved his brother, as much as they had been through together, he was going to have to keep a greater distance. Still, he couldn't stay mad at Danny too long. "I was getting out and he wasn't," says Antonio, whose lawyer had convinced the prosecutors that they didn't have a good case. He got another deferred sentence provided he attend drug-and-alcohol counseling and submit to drug testing for three years. "We were still brothers," he says. "We were still Boom and Bang."
After Venus Montoya died, Antonio says, the police hoped they could pin the murder on Danny--say that he ordered the hit.
"A snitch is a snitch, and a snitch has to die," he says, switching back to his gangster mode. "No one had to order anybody. Salvino had shot up the Ornelases' mom's house when his sister was inside. What if she'd been killed, and not Venus Montoya?
"The cops knew it was him. But did they care? Fuck, no. He was their boy, and it was just a gang member's house."
Antonio turns off the light on his drawing table.
It was all about choices and living with the consequences of those choices. Whether you were Danny, Pancho, Frank, Alejandro...or even Venus Montoya.
"She was no innocent bystander," he says. "She was smart enough to make decisions not to be around gang members. Gangs are synonymous with violence, and she damn well better have known that what she was doing was life-threatening.
"Everyone sees her as this innocent little girl. Well, fuck that, dude. If she had died in a drunk-driving accident, everyone would have thought she was an idiot. But because she's hanging out with gang members getting drunk, that's different?"
Antonio realizes how harsh he sounds. It's part of the duality of his nature--the war that rages within him between the angels and the devils. He sighs. "Whose fault is any of this?" he asks. "The cops, because they set us against each other and sometimes innocent people get hurt?
"Hers, because she thought it was cool having a big gangster around, and she wound up dead on the floor?
"His, for not telling her that she was in danger because of him?"
In the dark, he's a silhouette against what light comes through the window. He rubs his face and rubs again, but a conscience is something that can't be rubbed away.
"Or is it our fault for hating so much that we shoot moms in their houses?"
He closes his portfolio and nods his head. "That's our fault," he says, then quietly repeats himself. "That's our fault."
A month after Alejandro Ornelas's trial, Becky Estrada prepares herself to speak at his sentencing. There has been so much death in her family already--a daughter and a son who'd overdosed on drugs, another son murdered and the killer still walking the streets, then Venus.
Some days she sits on her porch and looks for her granddaughter to come waltzing down the block, swinging her hair out of her eyes. When Angel asks where his mother is, she points to the stars. But how now to explain to the man who killed her, a man who didn't even know her, the crushing devastation of his senseless act?
She walks to the podium and addresses the judge without looking at the young man who sits glumly at the defense table. Now he looks just like all the others who came to court to testify against him. No more trying to fool a jury by dressing him in civilian clothes; no more pretense that he's some innocent.
"He hurt my family," she tells the court, "and he hurt my baby. I'm sure his family hurts as much as we do.
"Now your family has to suffer, too," she says, as she at last turns to face Ornelas. "But at least they can see you. I can't see my daughter...But I have her in my heart."
Ornelas says nothing. There are no more tears, no outbursts.
Then Woodford sentences him to life in prison without parole. "You have caused the very violent death of a very young mother, fiancee and daughter," the judge says, "and I have seen no remorse on your part."
NEXT WEEK: The trial of Francisco "Pancho" Martinez.
Visit www.westword.com to read part one of "Dealing with the Devil," and related stories.
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