It was an all-too-familiar case of gang violence--a payback for a payback. And once again, young men and boys face the prospect of long prison terms.
On Monday at the Fullerton courthouse, four 15-year-old boys were convicted of first-degree murder in the death of John Leon Casillas, 16, who was killed last April as he walked home from a party. The four are Mauro Ramirez, Hector Moreida, Daniel Corona and Alfredo Romero, all alleged members of La Colonia gang in unincorporated areas near Anaheim.
They are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 3.
Meanwhile, in a related case, Martin Rene Rodriguez, 22, faces murder and conspiracy charges in the death of Rosendo Ibarra, who was gunned down April 30 as he talked on a pay phone. Rodriguez is allegedly a member of the Big Stanton gang, a rival of La Colonia.
“It’s cyclical,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Bob Eason, who is based in Stanton. “What’s happened is these people are very protective of each other and if someone gets hurt they take their revenge out on who did it and vice versa.”
Prosecutors said this particular cycle of violence began April 1 with the shooting of Balthazar Medina, a member of the Big Stanton gang, by members of La Colonia. Big Stanton members went looking for revenge, prosecutors said. They found it April 30 when they gunned down Ibarra next to the pay phone. But the violence did not end there.
Three months later, La Colonia members ambushed Casillas, killing him as he walked home from a party. Although he did not belong to a gang, some of his relatives did, and Sheriff’s Department investigators believe that Casillas was killed in retaliation for Ibarra’s murder.
For as far back as anyone remembers, Varrio La Colonia Independencia and Big Stanton have been a modern-day version of the Hatfields and McCoys, prosecutors said. But in the past year, the conflict has turned increasingly bloody.
“They always had a traditional type of rivalry but it’s only recently turned bloody,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. John Anderson, who prosecuted the Casillas case in Juvenile Court.
Anderson said violence threatened to disrupt the Casillas trial several times. He said the father of one witness said he would “cap” Anderson--shoot him--if he came back to the La Colonia neighborhood and began asking questions.
Several witnesses were intimidated by a courtroom packed with gang members and decided at the last minute not to testify. There was also an allegation that a parent of one defendant tried to run off the road a woman who had been taking some witnesses to court.
But Anderson said the recent prosecutions would deal a serious blow to the illegal activities of the two groups.
Some of Casillas’ relatives and friends who are gang members disagreed.
“This isn’t L.A. County but it’s almost as bad,” said Casillas’ uncle, a 24-year-old Big Stanton member who would identify himself only as Popeye. “I don’t see how it’s ever going to end.”
And a 19-year-old Big Stanton member who calls himself Caspy said the violence has become a way of life. “It’s like a merry-go-round of death,” he said. “It’s gone too far to stop it now.”