Longform

The Gang's All Here

Page 6 of 9

Once again, Becky had custody of a child too young to understand the finality of death. Some day she would tell Angel the whole truth. But for now, she explained that bad men had hurt his mother and that God had taken her and made her a star in the night sky.

It seemed an appropriate story for the granddaughter who had spent so much time looking up. Becky chose the brightest, most beautiful star, and told Angel it was his mother watching over him.

However slowly the wheels of justice might be turning in the Montoya murder investigation, they were turning steadily. Detective Richardson explained to Becky that although he might know who Venus's killers were, he didn't have enough to arrest them: He wanted a conviction. And that would take time, because he needed to crack the gang code of silence.

In August the ballistics report came back from the crime lab. The gun seized at the Ornelases' apartment was a positive match for the gun that had killed Venus.

Sal Martinez and Biggs had admitted they were at the apartment that night, but their alibis were solid.

Besides, unknown to the gunmen, there had been witnesses. One witness had seen the killers run to their gray car with the Colorado license plates. As they approached the car, he saw them remove their ski masks. The witness noted that the pair kept on their black gloves.

"I'll drive," one yelled as his comrade headed for the passenger door.
The witness was frightened. Friends and family members had warned him not to get involved in a gang killing; he could end up catching a bullet himself.

Still, he'd talked with the cops. And he'd gone down to the Lakewood Police Department headquarters to view a lineup through a one-way mirror. Quintana, who'd shaved the mustache he'd worn several months before, was the first man in the lineup.

After looking over the lineup, the witness was asked if he wanted to see or hear more from any one of the men. The witness indicated Quintana, who had the same physical build, face, hair and complexion as one of the men he had seen that night, he said.

"But he has different eyes," the witness concluded after a moment.
Another witness, the one who saw two men crouching by a gray car just before the murder, was brought in. He claimed that he couldn't identify any of the men in the lineup. However, Richardson noted that when Quintana stepped forward, the witness began breathing heavily and stared at the gang member.

Alejandro Ornelas was part of a second lineup. The first witness thought he looked familiar, too, but again concluded that the man he had seen that night was not in the lineup. Still, while the witnesses hadn't made positive identifications, Quintana and Alejandro Ornelas were the only two singled out of the lineups for any reason.

After that, the cops questioned Alejandro Ornelas. He readily conceded belonging to the Westside CMG Bloods and even admitted to having participated in fifteen or so other shootings. But, he said, he had not killed Venus Montoya.

On October 8, Detective Richardson called Bango Martinez. In the background, he could hear the reputed gang leader telling his homies, "Lakewood po po's want to talk to me about Zag and Speed and that shit."

Bango Martinez then told the detective he didn't want to talk to him. He knew about the murder, he said, but would go to jail before he turned into a snitch.

More heat was about to come down on the CMG Bloods, but this time it was the Eastside gang that was in trouble. In early November, a Denver grand jury indicted ten members for running an "illicit enterprise" that included murder, drug trafficking and other violent acts. Five of the ten were also charged with the murder of Eric Thomas, a member of a rival Crips gang who was gunned down in a drive-by in October 1993.

The 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. Since the law allows a judge to enhance sentencing penalties, law enforcement officials view it as a way to get large numbers of gang members off the streets at once--and for a long time. Prosecutors in Jefferson and El Paso counties had already used the law to essentially disband some gangs.

The indictments were a major coup for the Denver gang unit and district attorney's office, which claimed the case would cripple the Eastside CMG.

Police informants within the gangs had played a major role in the successful investigation. Not surprisingly, they were now marked men.

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Steve Jackson