WASHINGTON — Three gang members were sentenced today two consecutive life sentences in federal prison without the possibility of parole for participating in a six-year civil rights conspiracy that led to the assault and murder of African - Americans in Los Angeles, the Justice Department announced.
Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez and Fernando Cazares—members of the Avenues gang--had been convicted earlier this summer after a jury trial for participating in a to violate the civil rights of African-Americans in the gang’s neighborhood by attacking and sometimes killing the victims. The victims included Christopher Bowser, an African American man who was shot while waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park on December 11, 2000 and Kenneth Kurry Wilson, an African American man who was gunned down while looking for a parking place in Highland Park on April 18, 1999.
Saldana was convicted of being the triggerman in the Wilson murder and is currently serving a life sentence in state prison for another murder. Martinez was convicted of instigating the Wilson murder by using a racial slur and encouraging his fellow gang members to kill Wilson Cazares was convicted of serving as a look-out during the Wilson murder.
A fourth defendant convicted at trial, Porfirio Avila, who is currently serving a life sentence in state court in the murders of Christopher Bowser and another African American man, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Anderson on Dec. 18, 2006. A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, who is alleged to have been a part of the murders is currently a fugitive.
“Today’s sentences send a clear message that this type of racial violence, which devastates individuals and entire communities, will not be tolerated in this country,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is grateful to the victims and witnesses who had the courage to come forward in this case, despite enormous personal sacrifices demanded by the trial, so that the truth about these horrible crimes could come out.”
“Hate crimes are some of the most disturbing offenses prosecuted by this office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. “These defendants will now spend the rest of their lives in federal prison for the despicable act of trying to rid their neighborhood of African-Americans.”
Thomas P. O'Brien, Chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney's Office, said, “This case demonstrates that this office and the Department of Justice will use all tools available to ensure that the citizens of this District are protected from hate crimes, particularly violent hate crimes of the type committed by these defendants. The multiple life sentences imposed today guarantee that these violent, racist killers will never again be free to attack African-American residents of the Highland Park neighborhood just because they are African-American.”
J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said, “Today's sentencing represents the FBI's commitment to the protection of civil rights in the United States, which is listed among the FBI's highest priorities. My office continues to offer a
$20,000 reward for the remaining fugitive charged in the conspiracy, Merced Cambero, so that all of those responsible for these insidious and racist crimes are prosecuted.”
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, under Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
The Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing federal criminal civil rights. The overall conviction rate in FY 2006 was 98 percent--the highest conviction rate recorded in the past two decades.