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Adult charges prevail

teen pleads guilty to robbery and being a gang member

April 21, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

An Imperial Valley man — charged as an adult when he was 17 years old — pleaded guilty Friday to a robbery charge and a count of being a member of a criminal street gang.

The pleading in the Imperial County jail court was seen as a victory by authorities in that it sent a message that age will not necessarily protect gang members from being charged and tried as adults.

Friday's case involved Anthony Jose Martinez, who is now 18, but was 17 when on Nov. 24 he grabbed a gold chain off the neck of Emilio Gonzales in the parking lot of Donut Avenue in the 1000 block of Imperial Avenue in Calexico.

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Martinez fled the scene in a vehicle and was pursued by Gonzales.

According to Steve Honse, the deputy district attorney who handled the case, Martinez parked his vehicle at the intersection of Nosotros Street and Brandenberg Court, an area known to police as the territory of a Calexico street gang.

Gonzales reportedly parked his vehicle 20 feet behind Martinez's vehicle and waited for police to arrive, Honse states in a press release.

As Gonzales and two friends who were with him waited, Martinez exited a house accompanied by an adult identified as George de la Rosa and approached Gonzales' vehicle.

Martinez was armed with a bat and he used it to break a window.

When Calexico police officers arrived they arrested both Martinez and de la Rosa.

Police interviewed the two and Martinez admitted to officers that he was "a banger," according to Honse. Based upon the statements by Martinez and de la Rosa, police determined the crime was gang-related.

Because Martinez was 17 he could have been charged as a juvenile, but the District Attorney's Office filed a motion in juvenile court requesting that Martinez be found unfit for the juvenile system and charged as an adult.

On Jan. 4, the court granted the motion and Martinez and de la Rosa were joined as co-defendants in the criminal case. De la Rosa was charged with being an accessory to robbery and with being a member of a criminal street gang.

De la Rosa, who was originally cited and released, before he was charged as an accessory to the robbery, is listed as a fugitive. There is a warrant for his arrest.

Martinez, who turned 18 while in county jail, is facing a sentencing hearing May 25. He faces a maximum sentence of six and half years in prison.

The crime of being a member of a criminal street gang was created by the state Legislature through what is known as the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act.

Through that law, the state has provided grant funding to Imperial County, enabling the county to establish the gang violence suppression projects. The funding covers positions in the DA's Office, the county Probation Department, the Calexico Police Department and education offices.

Honse said Martinez has become the first 17-year-old to be charged as an adult under the tenets of the gang violence suppression program.

Honse said Martinez's case is significant because it means "juvenile gang members will no longer benefit from the protection of the juvenile justice system, which is mandated by law to seek to reform the offender. Gang members can expect to be removed from the juvenile system and answer for their crimes as adults, with adult punishments."

He added crimes committed by organized criminal street gangs will be subject to "additional punishments" as part of the STEP Act. Such additional penalties could include 16 months to five years in prison on top of the sentence imposed for the underlying crime.

Honse said, "Gang crimes will be given the highest priority and be subjected to a coordinated effort by the District Attorney, police education and probation departments."

Honse said he hopes the message does get out to gang members or those considering taking part in gang activity.

He said the "hard core" gang members likely will not take into consideration the message. "They accept criminal conviction as a part of doing business."

Still, he said those "on the fence" may be reached by the message.

He said, "When they cross that line they can expect to go to prison."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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