WASHINGTON — The fourth defendant and member of the Avenues street gang, who was convicted for his role in the racially-motivated murders of two African-Americans, was sentenced today to serve life in federal prison without the possibility of parole. Los Angeles gang member Porfirio Avila and his three co-defendants were previously found guilty of participating in a six-year conspiracy that led to the assaults and murders of African-Americans. This case marks the first time the federal hate crime statute has been used to combat racial violence by members of a street gang.
In August 2006, a federal jury found four defendants – Avila, as well as Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez and Fernandando Cazares – guilty of violating the civil rights of African-Americans by attacking and, on two occasions, killing them in the mostly-Latino neighborhood claimed by the gang. The victims included Christopher Bowser, an African-American man who was shot while waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park on Dec. 11, 2000, and Kenneth Wilson, an African-American man who was gunned down while looking for a parking space in Highland Park on April 18, 1999.
In November 2006, Avila’s three co-defendants, also members of the Avenues gang, were sentenced to two consecutive life terms for their role in the violent civil rights conspiracy and the murder of Kenneth Wilson.
“Racial violence devastates not only individuals but entire communities,” 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 justice could be done. Today’s sentence, as well as the sentences handed down last November, demonstrate how seriously we take these incidents.”
At trial last summer, two former Avenues gang members testified that Martinez instigated the Wilson murder by using a racial slur and encouraging his fellow gang members to kill Wilson. Saldana then fired a gun at Wilson while Cazares served as a look-out. Avila did not directly participate in Wilson’s murder, but participated in the six-year conspiracy against African-Americans and was implicated directly in the murder of Christopher Bowser. According to evidence at trial, Avila and Martinez attacked Bowser at a bus stop in Highland Park shortly before Bowser was shot to death in the same location. Avila was previously prosecuted in state court for the murders of Christopher Bowser and another African-American man, and is already serving a life sentence in state prison.
A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, is also accused of participating in the murders of African-Americans. Cambero is currently a fugitive.
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 U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.