3 Men Plead Not Guilty in Gang Slaying

Times Staff Writers

Three suspects in a fatal shooting in Burbank last week that authorities said was gang-related pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and other charges stemming from the incident.

The men--Johnny Martinez Herrera, 21, of Glendale; Rudolfo T. Navarro, 19, of Burbank, and Selso Hernandez Casteneda, 19, of Burbank--were arraigned before Los Angeles Municipal Judge Glenette Blackwell on charges of murder, attempted murder and possession of a billy club.

The three, who police allege are members of a Burbank-based gang, are being held in County Jail on $200,000 bail each.

Blackwell set Jan. 16 for a preliminary hearing for the men.

Talking Outside House

They are accused of having killed Juan Ruvalcaba, 21, of Burbank and firing at Heriberto Sanchez, 19, who was not injured, while the two men were talking outside Ruvalcaba's home in the 250 block of West Verdugo Avenue last Saturday.

Burbank police said it was the first time in more than five years that one of that city's gangs has been implicated in a local killing.

Police said Ruvalcaba, believed to be a member of a Highland Park-based gang, was shot once in the head, then struck repeatedly just before midnight. His assailants ran away, police said.

Ruvalcaba died Monday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Loren Michael Naiman, who is prosecuting the case, said the killing is believed to have stemmed from the Burbank gang members' belief that Ruvalcaba was crossing out their graffiti.

Naiman said the gang members were linked to Ruvalcaba's murder through witnesses' statements and other evidence that he would not disclose.

Two 17-year-old boys also have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the killing. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21 to determine whether the youths should be tried as adults.

Charges were not filed against a fourth adult arrested in connection with the murder, Freddie Casillas, 19, of Burbank.

Burbank police Detective Randall Pastor, the department's part-time gang liaison, said there are probably at least 100 members or associates of the two gangs in Burbank.

Gangs Get Along

"The two Hispanic gangs in town get along pretty well," he said. "They generally just kind of kick back and get loaded or drunk and write on walls."

Police said that Burbank had a white gang, but that they believe it has disbanded.

The gangs commit so few crimes that the Burbank force does not have a gang unit, Pastor said. Compiling statistics on the crimes for which gang members are responsible is a low priority and no statistics are available, he said.

But in a given three-month period, there are generally six to 20 crimes in which the suspect or victim is a gang member, Pastor said. Most of those cases involve gang members spray-painting graffiti, Pastor said, although a few involve burglary, theft and other crimes.

Pastor said he has told city officials, referring to Ruvalcaba's gang: "There is a definite possibility that they're going to retaliate. That's what they do."

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