Sal, who had fathered two children, wanted more from life. "I had no car, no money," he recalls. "Sure, there were bitches, drinkin' and bangin'...but that don't put a roof over your head or feed your children or get you wheels."
It wasn't that Sal walked the straight and narrow: He ran his own illicit enterprises and put his money away. He used some of the money to purchase Lincoln Towncars, which he turned into beautifully detailed lowriders (one of which won first place this year at the Cinco de Mayo festivities).
It was the "jealousy and envy" of other gangmembers that got him into trouble, Sal says. In particular, the money and the cars drew the attention of Daniel "Bango" Martinez, Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas, his brother Gerard "G-Loc" Ornelas, Samuel "Zig-Zag" Quintana, and even Sal's childhood friend, David "Baby G" Warren.
This clique within the Westside CMG Bloods considered themselves to be the hardcore members, Sal says. They'd show up at a party and demand jewelry and money from those in attendance, but that wasn't the worst of it. "They'd put a gun to a girl's head and say, 'You're gonna fuck me and all my homeboys.'"
They couldn't get away with such tactics with older Bloods or people who stood up to them. "They could have never done it to black Bloods... the blacks would have put them down fast," Sal says, referring to the mostly black Eastside CMG Bloods.
It was young or weaker "fools" who could do nothing when Bango and his cohorts robbed them and raped their girlfriends. And they knew that if they talked, they were liable to get shot.
Bango and his boys, Sal notes, are generally small in stature. "They can't fight for shit...they're bitches when it comes to fighting," he says. "But they'll use a gun, and that scares some fools."
Sal's refusal to recognize Bango or Speed, a reputed "shooter" for Westside CMG, as leaders earned their enmity. "I told them that shit with the women was going to catch up to them one of these days," he says. "But they got big heads; they think they were in charge."
The bad blood led to Bango and his boys taking shots at Sal, who says he returned the fire and hints that he may have initiated some of his own. "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," he says. "But what it got down to was: Who is going to kill who first?"
At one point, Sal says, he caught Bango and pistol-whipped him to the ground. "I could have killed him then, but I let him slide," he says. "But after I beat his ass, the animosity really kicked in."
Sal was ready for the gunplay. But then Bango and his troops "did the absolute worst thing they could do," he says. They put the word out on the streets that he was talkin' to 5-0...that he was a snitch.
The rumor alone was enough to get a man killed. Friends wouldn't talk to him anymore, Sal says, and some refused to do business with him until he could explain what was happening. Then came word that Bango had ordered a hit on Sal.
But even with the snitch rumor out and the hit on, Sal refused to hide. He drove around town in his easily recognizable car and visited the same friends. "Think about it," he says. "I got a light record; there was nothing for me to snitch about so that I could save my ass from a long time in the pen.
"I'd rather do a year or two than spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder because I talked to 5-0 about the Bloods. I never talked to 5-0 about nothing."
On the night of July 18, 1996, and into the early morning, Sal Martinez and one of his "homies," Richard "JC Love" Biggs, spent some time partying with girls who'd rented an apartment in a complex off Sheridan Boulevard. One of Sal's brothers knew one of the girls, Venus Montoya.
"She was real nice," Sal recalls. "We just sat around doing shots. There were some other guys there, but she said, 'Don't be tripping on each other, just chill,' and that's what we did."
A little before 4 a.m., Sal and Biggs left to pick up Sal's girlfriend. A few minutes later two figures in black ski masks crept up to the screen door of the apartment and began shooting. Venus, who just that week had asked her grandmother to take her son home for his own safety, was killed by several shots to the head.