Monday, July 7, 2008

Frank Benavidez And Three Juvenile Gangbangers Arrested For Drive-By Murder Of Seven-Year-Old Maria Menchaca In Salt Lake's Glendale District

One adult and three juveniles have been arrested on suspicion of murder in the drive-by shooting death Sunday of a seven-year-old Salt Lake City girl. And the adult is a known illegal alien. Media stories from the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KTVX Channel 4 with video, and KSL Channel 5 with video.

A companion story from KSL about gang activity in Glendale provides some additional perspective. Some area residents believe the Councilman for the area is insufficiently attentive to the problem. That's probably because the Salt Lake City Council's been more interested in gay rights than public safety.

Frank Benavidez, 20, was arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County jail and suspicion of first-degree homicide. The juveniles -- Gabriel Magallon, 17; Mae Johnson, 16; and Tiona Vigial, 16 -- also are in custody, suspected of first-degree homicide. Investigators have also recovered a gun linked to the shooting. All four are comfirmed gang members, and 16-year-olds can be tried as adults for murder under Utah law, which explains why the names of the juveniles have been made public.

Although investigators have not officially released the victim's name, family friend Rosina Velasquez identified her as seven-year-old Maria Carmen Santos (since clarified to be actually Maria Menchaca). Police do not believe Menchaca was the intended target.

Santos was playing on a sidewalk outside her home at Fremont Avenue and 800 West around 6:30 p.m. when someone fired a round from a passing black SUV -- a Cadillac Escalade or Ford Excursion -- at another juvenile near the Menchaca home, and instead hit Menchaca. Benavidez is believed to be the driver of the SUV.

Immediately prior to the shooting, neighbors on nearby Paxton Street said they saw an older-model white van speed west on Paxton and turn north onto 800 West seconds before gunfire broke out. The two men inside were wearing green bandanas, which may represent a gang, according to neighbor Sheldon Hall, but police have not yet determined whether or not the van or its occupants were involved in the shooting.

According to an earlier KSL report, the stage for the fatal confrontation may have been set earlier in the day. SLPD Lt. Isaac Atencio previously stated, "Officers were here earlier in the day and took a report of some threats that were made against people here in the neighborhood". A young woman, who would only identify herself as a cousin of Menchaca, said there had been a confrontation with the shooter earlier in the day at the house. The cousin told the Deseret News that the suspect was threatening one of her cousins who lived in the same house as the victim. She said the suspect threatened to "kill him and his whole family."

But investigators would not say whether the alleged threats were directed at the family of the little girl, although they reiterated that it is unlikely she was the shooter's target. Many neighborhood residents state there is a growing gang problem in the neighborhood, claiming crowds of "little gang-bangers" have been frequenting the intersection where the girl was shot.

And some neighborhood residents have had enough. Jarad Brown, another resident in the neighborhood where the shooting took place, said, "[I'm] nervous. I'm moving. I'm probably going to move. My father's got a house in Sandy. I'm probably going to go out there". Another person who is willing to exchange the nebulous benefits of "diversity" in favor of greater personal safety.

In the course of highlighting Frank Benavidez' budding con career, the Tribune revealed that he is an illegal alien. Benavidez - aka Felipe Alarcon Jimenez - was deported last year in connection with felony convictions in two Salt Lake City cases:

- In June 2006, Benavidez pleaded guilty to third-degree felony counts of aggravated assault and discharging a firearm from a vehicle or highway. As part of a plea deal, two other aggravated assault charged and three other firearm discharge counts were dismissed. Benavidez had fired five shots at another man, according to 3rd District Court records, following an earlier incident where Benavidez had tried to kiss a woman, which precipitated a fight.

- Benavidez also pleaded guilty to third-degree felony failure to stop at the command of a police officer. Prosecutors dismissed three counts of retaliation of a witness, victim or informant and two misdemeanors. In that case, Benavidez fled in a car when police arrived to question him about a report of a person brandishing a gun. Benavidez sped away, then fled on foot after colliding with another car. He ran into a home, where he changed clothes and threatened to harm the occupants if they cooperated with police. Judge Deno Himonas sentenced Benavidez in both cases to be deported, which occurred a month later. Himonas ordered Benavidez not to return illegally to United States and issued a $25,000 bench warrant in case he did return. However, Benavidez never left Salt Lake City, and fell through the cracks.

- In yet a third case, Benavidez was charged in October 2006 with aggravated kidnapping, robbery and assault. That case was dismissed two months later because prosecutors were unable to locate the victim. Benavidez and Jesus Alarcon Jimenez attacked a woman and stole her purse after she arrived at the parking lot of her apartment complex, according to court documents. The woman fought free after Benavidez grabbed her, but he knocked her down, punched her in the face, grabbed her purse and ran to a car, which Jimenez was driving.

If the name of Jesus Jimenez sounds familiar, here's why. Jimenez was convicted in June 2008 of murder for driving the getaway car following the August 2007 shooting death of Glendale hairdresser Faviola Hernandez. This case was previously described HERE.

The Glendale District encompasses southwest Salt Lake City proper. The core area of greatest concern is roughly bounded by North Temple, 2100 South, I-15, and 1700 West (Redwood Road), although the map shows it "officially" extending as far west as 7200 West. The prevailing zip code is 84104.

A demographic analysis of Glendale by Zipskinny, using zip code 84104, indicates the district is 40.5 percent Hispanic, 40.1 percent White, and 7.1 percent Pacific Islander. In contrast, the three zip codes encompassing Sandy, 84092, 84093, and 84094, where Jarad Brown wants to move, indicate the community is on the average 92 percent White. Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are the most likely individuals to become involved in organized gang activity along the Wasatch Front.

Analysis: Impressive response by SLPD. They knew who these perps were, and were able to track them down quickly. That's the first step in controlling crime.

The next steps must be taken by the people. We cannot station a cop on every street corner in Glendale. So cops must be allowed to break up and disperse these juvenile wannabes who congregate randomly on street corners. And if the cops can't or won't do it, locals must organize and do it themselves, using non-lethal force. They're juveniles, and as such, should not be extended full constitutional rights. Full rights should be available only for law-abiding adult citizens.

And finally, justice must be sure. These four scum were involved in organized street gang activity. A street gang, by its very nature, should be defined as a criminal enterprise. They carelessly took the life of an innocent seven-year-old girl. Consequently, the death penalty would be appropriate for ALL FOUR OF THEM.

Don't peddle any more rubbish about how they're underprivileged and under-mentored and don't have enough community centers and "midnight basketball", etc. The reason these kids turn to gangs is because, in their minds, the benefits outweigh the burdens. The key is to clearly reverse that perception - the burdens must be seen to outweigh the benefits. And prison is no real burden; gangbangers are taught that prison is like a college. They go to jail, and it's like a class reunion; everybody high-fiving each other and "chilling out".

And that's another reason why the death penalty is appropriate in this case. Negative incentives are necessary, and negative incentives can work.

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