By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
Abraham looked straight at Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilson Leung throughout his testimony. He avoided eye contact with his seven former homeys, one of whom shook his head in disgust. The marshals asked that none of them take notes with pens, which could be used as weapons. Martinez tattled on them, one by one. He talked about how Cyco got out of the car with him in the Excelsior with a machete, ready to attack a car of Norteños. How Soldado ("Soldier" in English) boasted to him in Santa Rita Jail that he'd killed Patas, the leader of the traffickers of fake Social Security cards on Mission Street, who'd paid "rent" to the 20th Street Clique for years.
Martinez says he decided to cooperate only after the Sureños he was incarcerated with in Santa Rita Jail in 2008 accused him of being a snitch — before he'd signed on as one. He says they told him he'd "been checked off the list." A gang of prisoners attacked him. Abraham says he felt he had no choice but to change to the government's jersey and move out of the pod.
Abraham Martinez may be winning decades of freedom by cooperating as a witness. Yet he admits he is also giving himself a death sentence. When diligently relaying the rules of the MS-13 on the stand, he hesitates before saying the last: "Don't snitch."
Last year, Mickey also admitted he was a marked man in the Nochez case: "They not going to give me a chance. They not just going to stab me or give me a little beatdown. No, they going to kill me."
So when Martinez tells the jury that part of his deal with the prosecutors is that the government will keep "my family safe, me safe," it seems like a naive moment in his otherwise streetwise testimony. While the 20th Street Clique isn't accused of killing any of its own, it seems its members haven't forgotten the rule. According to an incident report from last year, Angel Guevara, one defendant now on trial, mailed a photo from jail to his sister onto which he'd drawn arrows pointing to three men, labeling them as ratas, or rats. He told prison officials he was merely trying to send information for her to deliver to his attorney.
An ICE agent reported that Cruz-Ramirez told a prisoner housed in Dublin jail to relay a message to inmates that MS-13 members there were "no good" because they were cooperating with law enforcement against him and "needed to be handled." It seems Cruz-Ramirez is well-informed: The agent wrote that the three names he mentioned were MS-13 members "who are, in fact, cooperating, or in the past have cooperated, with law enforcement."
The Martinezes' lives will likely be uneasy ones. Abraham is facing up to a life sentence for gang conspiracy including an attempted murder, but could get less than 10 years if the judge so decides upon the prosecutors' recommendation. Mickey testified last year that he faces a life sentence as well, after the government is done with him as a witness. Abraham testified that he's in protective custody while incarcerated at an undisclosed location. When he's asked who visits him in jail, he says, "Nobody."
A very different fate awaits the noncooperating gang members who go to prison, Abraham testified. Sureños drop any clique divisions and unify in jail against Norteños and other gangs. Time in prison merely pumps up your status on the streets.
Yet some MS-13 members don't want to return to the gang. David hopes to finally get the devil horns tattoo removed in prison, literally stripping the gang out from under his skin. At the end of his sentence, he's set to be deported to El Salvador, where an MS-13 tattoo puts you at risk of attack by other gangsters or right-wing paramilitaries.
Yet David's alliance won't be so easy to shed. He knows he'll be jailed with other Sureño members — the same situation he blames on getting him into this nightmare in the first place. "It ruined my life. What can I do?" he says. "I didn't want to be a gangster. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time." He's glad Bad Boy has now been indicted.
If all goes according to plan, David will be nearing 40 when he walks out of custody. He hopes never to have contact with the MS-13 again. "I want to get out, and disappear, to a place where no one knows me." That seems a long way off. After a half-hour visit, he obediently stands up and shoots a wave restrained by the cuff to his chained belt. The guard takes him away.