Gov. Jerry Brown rejected parole late Friday for a former Mexican Mafia killer who left the prison gang and has spent more than a decade cooperating with authorities and speaking at law enforcement conferences.
Brown acknowledged the valuable information Rene "Boxer" Enriquez has provided authorities, but said in a statement that the "positive steps" were ultimately "outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole."
"When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison," Brown wrote.
Enriquez, 52, is serving life in prison for two murders committed in 1989. He ordered the killing of one woman, Cynthia Gavaldon, a drug dealer whom he suspected was stealing from him. He personally killed a fellow Mexican Mafia member who had fallen out of favor with the gang. His criminal history also includes jailhouse attacks on other inmates, drug sales and a sexual assault.
Gavaldon's son, who requested anonymity, citing concerns for his safety, said Friday night that he and his sister were "relieved" by the governor's decision. He was 6 years old when his mother was killed and only learned Enriquez had been granted parole when he was contacted by a Times reporter last week.
After he learned about the parole board's decision, Gavaldon's son called various law enforcement agencies, trying to get more information about how his family could weigh in. With the Sunday deadline looming, he said he decided to make one last attempt on Friday afternoon. He called the governor's office, hoping to speak to someone about Enriquez's chance at freedom.
Gavaldon's son declined to discuss the details of the conversation but said he finally felt as though "my voice was heard."
"I really was ready to give up," he said. "I felt a sense of nervousness prior to this. And now I feel a sense of ease."
He said he had become disenchanted with law enforcement after learning how authorities seemingly embraced his mother's killer. The governor, he said, did "the right thing."
Enriquez defected from the prison gang in 2002 and has since provided intelligence and other help to law enforcement, acting as an expert witness in dozens of criminal trials and speaking at a number of conferences and training sessions. Officials with at least 11 federal and state law enforcement agencies wrote letters attesting to his contributions, which the parole board considered in reviewing his case.
His cozy relationship with law enforcement sparked public debate after he was escorted by the Los Angeles Police Department to a downtown Los Angeles event last month to give a talk to a private group of business leaders, with extensive security detail provided at taxpayer expense. After The Times and other media reported on the event, the private group offered to reimburse the city for the expense.
The state parole board concluded that Enriquez was no longer a threat to society and found him suitable for release in September after a hearing that reviewed Enriquez’s life and a lengthy criminal history that began at age 11.
Brown said Enriquez failed to adequately explain during his parole hearing why he turned to a life of violence. Enriquez blamed his criminal activity on drug use but was unable to explain to a psychologist who evaluated him in 2014 why he had chosen violence when other drug users didn’t, Brown said.
"Mr. Enriquez presents a rather shallow understanding of how he came to perpetuate so many extremely violent crimes," the governor said. "These explanations suggest that Mr. Enriquez has not yet deeply examined or forthrightly explained why he pursued for decades a life of violence."
Brown also said that Enriquez remains a target of the Mexican Mafia and that parole would pose a serious security risk to Enriquez, his family, his parole agents and the community in which he is placed.
Enriquez's criminal history includes burglaries and a gang-rape committed when he was a teenager. He engaged in armed robberies as an adult before becoming a member of the powerful prison gang in the 1980s.
Within weeks of being released on parole in 1989, he ordered the death of Gavaldon and gave a fatal overdose of heroin to David Gallegos, also shooting him five times in the head to make sure he was dead. While awaiting trial for the murders, he and another inmate stabbed a man 26 times with a jail-crafted shank in the name of the Mexican Mafia.
Enriquez told the parole board he was “truly, truly remorseful” for his crimes and that he was making amends by cooperating with law enforcement. With his knowledge of the Mexican Mafia, he said he had a “really good career” lined up if he were to be released. In addition to his law enforcement work, Enriquez has collaborated on two books on the gang and helped teach a class at UC Irvine.
“I cannot undo the past. But I can contribute to the future,” Enriquez told the board. “I can contribute to dissuading other individuals from participating in this.”
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office opposed Enriquez’s release, accusing him of using his knowledge of the prison gang to “buy his ticket out of prison, to support his family, to make money.” Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Shidler questioned what Enriquez would do if his services were no longer needed by law enforcement.
“What happens if that dries up? What is the inmate going to do?” Shidler asked the board.
None of Enriquez’s victims or their families were present at the parole board hearing.
Enriquez told the board that if released, he would enter the federal government’s witness protection program because he is on the Mexican Mafia’s hit list for his cooperation with law enforcement. He would not appear in the state’s public sex offender listing because of witness protection, he said, but would be under stringent monitoring by the U.S. Marshals Service.