Two Latino gang members pleaded guilty Thursday to federal hate crime charges stemming from racially motivated attacks on four black youngsters as part of a campaign of terror aimed at forcing African Americans out of west Compton.
The guilty pleas from Jeffrey “Turkey” Aguilar, 20, and Efren “Looney” Marquez, 22, mark the first convictions in the Los Angeles region under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Prosecutors say the men beat a black teenager on New Year’s Eve with a metal pipe and threatened a second juvenile with a gun. Aguilar, Marquez and other Compton 155 gang members then turned their threats and racial epithets toward members of a black household where the teenager had fled.
Under questioning from U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. on Thursday, Aguilar pleaded guilty to using the metal pipe against the teenager because of his race and acknowledged being a member of Compton Varrio 155.
“I assaulted him ... caused him bodily injury,” Aguilar said.
“Where did you hit him?” Hatter asked.
“In his head,” Aguilar replied.
Marquez pleaded guilty to threatening to shoot the second black juvenile because of his race and driving the assailants.
“I threatened the person by telling them I was going to shoot,” Marquez told the judge, adding he “never had a weapon.”
But Hatter, who is also black, pointed out the threat alone was the crime.
The campaign of racial intimidation also included racial graffiti on behalf of the gang, prosecutors said.
It all started when Marquez and others jumped out of an SUV to confront the 17-year-old black youth on Compton Street.
The teen ran toward his girlfriend’s house, where there were three other black youths.
Aguilar and Marquez followed him. Aguilar then beat the 17-year-old with a metal pipe on the head and body, according to a criminal indictment. Marquez, allegedly armed with a gun, briefly chased another youth who came out of the home before the reputed gang members left, prosecutors said.
As the four victims were huddled inside the house, a window was smashed and they were met with racial slurs and epithets from a group of gang members 15-strong, and warned they did not belong in the neighborhood, prosecutors said.
One of the people inside called the teen’s mother, who phoned sheriff’s deputies.
In the days that followed, prosecutors allege Marquez and other Compton 155 members drove by the home yelling, “You are going to die over here.”
The attacks on the family were the latest in a series of violent incidents in which Latino gangs targeted blacks in parts of greater Los Angeles over the last decade. U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte noted his office last year charged several Azusa gang members with hate crimes.
Aguilar and Marquez each face up to 10 years in prison and three years in additional supervision upon release. Hatter said he would wait to decide on a sentence until after he reviewed reports and letters on the pair’s behalf.