Hispanic street gang members convicted as hate group

Four face life in prison for slaying of two black men.

LOS ANGELES – Four members of a Hispanic gang were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to use violence, including murder, to push blacks out of their neighborhood in what prosecutors called one of the first high-profile federal prosecutions of a street gang as a hate group.

All four were found to have caused the death of a black man who was shot while parking his car in 1999 and a man who was shot while standing at a bus stop in 2000 in the largely Hispanic city of Highland Park, just east of Los Angeles.

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The four face life in prison without parole. Sentencing begins Oct. 23.

For a guilty verdict, jurors had to find that the attacks were part of a conspiracy to violate the victims’ right to live where they please and to use state-administered facilities, including public streets.

Authorities said it was one of the first prominent cases in which the U.S. Justice Department targeted a street gang with laws normally used to prosecute white supremacist groups such as skinhead organizations and the Ku Klux Klan.

“In America, these people don’t get to beat people down or kill them because they don’t want to see black skin in their neighborhood,” Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein told the jury during closing arguments last week. “Tell them that they did not own these streets, and they did not own that neighborhood.”

Defense attorneys claimed police concocted the conspiracy charges by tying together random attacks committed largely by unknown perpetrators. They also questioned the credibility of two former members of the Avenues gang who became government witnesses.

Convicted were Gilbert “Lucky” Saldana, 27; Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, 28; Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, 31; and Fernando “Sneaky” Cazares, 26.

Two of the defendants – Saldana and Avila – are already serving life sentences in state prison.

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
AP, via Press-Telegram.com, USA
Aug. 1, 2006
www.presstelegram.com

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