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Gang Member Convicted of First-Degree Murder in Dispute Over Graffiti

Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old gang member who brutally killed a Burbank man to avenge the defacing of his gang’s graffiti has been convicted of first-degree murder.

After deliberating six days, a Los Angeles Superior Court Jury on Wednesday found Ralph Hernandez of Burbank guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit an assault with a deadly weapon, Deputy Dist. Atty Loren Naiman said.

Hernandez was convicted of fatally shooting 20-year-old Juan Ruvalcaba outside his West Verdugo Avenue home on Dec. 28, 1985. Two other gang members, Johnny Herrera and Selso Castaneda, were each convicted of second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon and possession of illegal and dangerous weapons, Naiman said.

Graffiti Crossed Out

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The incident occured after graffiti scrawled on a Burbank building by members of a gang known as “BTR” were crossed out and replaced with the insignia of a rival gang, the Cypress Park Boys, Naiman said.

The action was interpreted as a symbolic challenge to the gang, Naiman said, and a half dozen BTR members vowed to “get Juan” Ruvalcaba, whom they believed to be a member of the rival gang.

BTR stands for Burbank Trece Rifa and gang members testified that the name meant “Burbank 13 rules,” said Naiman, who prosecutes hard-core gang crimes. “It means ‘we’re No. 1' or ‘we’re on top’ ” Naiman said. (The number 13 is often used in gang names to signify a Southern California gang, Naiman said.)

The letters were crossed out and replaced with the words “CP Boys” and “Rankers,” Naiman said. “Rankers is a challenge meaning ‘you’re wimps,’ ” he said. “It signifies somebody who will not stand up and defend their neighborhood. BTR accepted the challenge.”

Shot, Tortured

Hernandez used a .22-caliber revolver and shot Ruvalcaba as he sat talking to a friend by a fire hydrant outside his house, Naiman said. Ruvalcaba was shot in the head, the thigh and the testicles, Naiman said.

The other men had fashioned four-foot long stakes with several rows of crossbars and a handle at the end and used them to beat Ruvalcaba, Naiman said.

Hernandez then shot at Ruvalcaba’s friend, Heriberto Sanchez Esparza, who escaped without injury, Naiman said.

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Burbank police arrested Ruvalcaba, Herrera and Castaneda and three others, who are juveniles, within three days of the murder. Two of the men pleaded guilty to the murder and are serving sentences in California Youth Authority custody, Naiman said. The trial of the sixth man is to begin in August.


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