Two gang members convicted of hate-crime murders


Two Latino gang members were convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in a hate-crime trial involving the deaths of a 14-year-old black girl and a potential witness in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles.

The jury deliberated for less than two days before convicting Jonathan Fajardo, 22, and Daniel Aguilar, 23, members of the 204th Street gang, of all charges. Fajardo was found guilty of killing Cheryl Green, whose slaying the jury found was a hate crime motivated by her race. Both men were convicted of participating in the murder of 21-year-old Christopher Ash, who prosecutors say was a fellow gang member suspected by the rest of the gang of talking to police about Green’s killing.

Fajardo and Aguilar showed no emotion, staring blankly ahead, as their families wept in the audience. The penalty phase for Fajardo, in which the jury will decide whether he should receive the death penalty, is set to begin Monday. Aguilar, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 27.

Charlene Lovett, wearing a black shirt with photos of her daughter and the words “Baby Girl Cheryl,” buried her head in her arms and sobbed, her shoulders shaking, as the verdicts were read. Later, she paced back and forth in the hallway in tears, whispering “Thank you, Jesus.”

“It’s been almost four years and my life has just been a wreck since my daughter’s death,” she said afterward. “Now I can try to move on, and leave this part behind.”

Green was shot in December 2006 as she stood with friends in a driveway in broad daylight. Prosecutors alleged at the trial that Fajardo was agitated from an earlier confrontation with a black man when he fired into the crowd of black youngsters. Three others were wounded in that shooting. Fajardo was convicted of seven counts of attempted murder for firing at the others in the crowd.

Ash’s death came two weeks later. His body, stabbed more than 60 times and enveloped in a blood-soaked blanket, was dumped on a roadside in Carson. The gang suspected him because police served a search warrant on his apartment but released him the same day, prosecutors said.

At the trial, a fellow 204th Street gang member testified in graphic detail about Ash’s killing in exchange for a lighter sentence. In his testimony, Jose Covarrubias recounted how Fajardo hit Ash in the head with the butt of a shotgun, causing him to stumble, after which other gang members beat and stabbed him. Aguilar, Ash’s best friend, was assigned to lure him to the garage, and later kicked him in the legs after he appeared dead, Covarrubias testified.

Two other gang members, Robert Gonzales and Raul Silva, are expected to stand trial later this year in Ash’s slaying. Another man, Ernesto Alcarez, is charged in Green’s murder and is awaiting trial for allegedly acting as Fajardo’s lookout.

In the two-week trial, Fajardo’s attorney disputed that Green’s killing, which Fajardo admitted to in police interviews, was motivated by race, calling it an “accident that rose of fear and anger” and a “rash impulse.” The defense attorney, Thomas White, also maintained that Fajardo did not know Ash would be killed. Antonio Bestard, Aguilar’s attorney, told jurors that other gang members kept his client in the dark about their plans to stab Ash to death because Aguilar was Ash’s friend.

Both defense attorneys declined to comment after Thursday’s verdict.

Green’s death sparked furor in the community and outrage from authorities and politicians about long-standing gang violence and black-Latino tensions in the neighborhood, a narrow stretch of Los Angeles between Torrance and Carson where graffiti with racial epithets were an everyday occurrence.

The girl’s death was but one of a number of slayings in the area that police believe were racially motivated. The slayings date as far back as 1997.