July 2, 2009
A federal magistrate yesterday denied Alex Sanchez bail in his gang conspiracy trial as expected, but the prosecution entered a surprisingly "weak" case, according to defense counsel.
If the bail denial is endorsed by federal judge Manuel Real, an appeal to the US Ninth Circuit Court could take months, keeping Sanchez in federal isolation. Sanchez's defenders argue that bail denial is a violation of his equal opportunity to participate in his own defense, tipping the scales of justice against the indigent defendant, former gang member and decade-long leader of Homies Unidos, a gang-prevention organization highly regarded in juvenile justice circles.
Sanchez appeared in court yesterday chained and shackled, dressed in a white prison uniform. He made brief eye contact with his family and supporters, tapping his heart in a gesture of love and strength. He remained quiet through the proceedings.
In arguing that Sanchez was a danger to the community and a flight risk, the prosecution revealed the core of its conspiracy case for the first time since Sanchez was arrested at home at 6:00 AM last Wednesday.
As evidence that Sanchez leads a "double life" as community healer by day and secret member of a hierarchical racketeering organization (the gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS) by night, the prosecutors offered the following evidence:
" that Sanchez claims to support gang tattoo removal as a path out of the gang life but has a gang tattoo across his chest. In fact, laser tattoo removal programs, which are painful, lengthy and expensive, are offered only for the hands, wrists, neck or other areas that are barriers to training and employment programs. Father Boyle credits Sanchez with helping 250 young people undergo tattoo removal. Sanchez openly admits he was a tattooed member of MS in the 1980s and early 1990s. (As a state senator, I authorized $2 million for tattoo-removal programs.)
" that Sanchez has a long criminal record. But defense counsel noted that several of Sanchez's previous convictions have been struck down, and that those which remain are two offenses from 1991. Subsequently, Sanchez has been not only exonerated of past offenses in LA Superior Court but granted political asylum by an immigration judge during the Rampart police scandal in 2002.
" that a poem by Sanchez was found in papers taken by police during a house raid several years ago.
" that Sanchez appeared in a 2000 photo taken at a gang peace conference in San Francisco, smiling with an associate and posing with gang signs. Attorney Bensinger noted that millions of young people, including his own kids, sometimes throw gang signs without such behavior being criminal.
" that several weeks ago Sanchez and several young men were talking and drinking after a sporting event when police rolled up and took notes on field identification cards. There were no charges made.
A sentence such as "we go to war," without context, could be prophecy, prediction or warning, but it is hardly substantive evidence of ordering a gang killing. The case itself may open up the shadowy world of LAPD collusion with Salvadoran police and the unsolved murders of numerous Homies Unidos members deported back to El Salvador in the past decade.
Many might ask why Sanchez isn't simply tried for accessory to murder in the proper state or local court. The plain reason is that the evidence would be insufficient. Enter the RICO racketeering conspiracy laws, named after a gangster in an Edward G. Robinson film, which make guilt by association the basis of responsibility for concrete "overt" acts. (For example, during the 1969 Chicago Democratic National Convention conspiracy trial, eight defendants were accused of conspiring to cross state lines and carrying out "overt acts" in furtherance of said conspiracy. It was not necessary that the eight knew each other. I was charged with the overt act of letting air out of a police car's tires. Bobby Seale's overt act was giving a speech in broad daylight. Jerry Rubin, if I recall, was charged with throwing a sweater at a police officer.)