On July 17th, 2008, a man and two teenagers accused of taking part in a gang-related drive-by shooting that left a 7-year-old girl dead made an initial court appearance today. Reported by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5. See previous post for more background.
Third District Judge Joseph Fratto set a scheduling conference for each of the three for July 28th and provided court appointed attorneys for each. The defendants appeared in court via closed-circuit TV:
• Frank Puga Benavidez, 20, who is charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. Since he was an adult when the shooting occurred, Benavidez is eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted of the murder charge. Benavidez not only has a lengthy criminal history, but is an illegal alien who was previously ordered deported. However, Benavidez never left Salt Lake, and no one took responsibility to ensure that he would be deported.
• Gabriel Alejandro Alvarez, 16, who also is charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. Although Alvarez is being charged as an adult, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty if Alvarez is convicted because he is not actually an adult. However, if he is found guilty, he could get a sentence of life in prison without parole. Alvarez has an extensive record as ajuvenile offender.
• Mae Goodman Johnson, 16, who is charged with murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies. She is being charged as an adult, and could face a prison term of 20-years-to-life behind bars if convicted. She has no prior record.
All three are being held on $1 million cash-only bail. Two others were also arrested at the time: Gabriel Magallon and Tiona Vigial. No word on when they'll be arraigned.
Police say the three arraigned on July 17th were involved in a drive-by shooting in Glendale on July 6th that resulted in the death of seven-year-old Maria Del Carmen Menchaca, who was playing in front of her house around 6:30 P.M. Police have said they do not believe the child was the intended target — instead, she was killed due to a long-standing battle between rival gangs.
The role of Mae Johnson has generated considerable controversy and discussion. Shortly after she was arrested, her family began a P.R. campaign to sanitize her possible role in the killing and re-invent her as a typical teenager "caught in the wrong place at the wrong time" who would never harm a fly. As a matter of fact, her uncle, Ira Deschene, told KSL in this earlier story that "his little Mae-Mae" is a good girl. "I don't believe my niece should go away for murder. I don't think she'd do that to anybody," Deschene said.
However, police paint a completely different - and much more malevolent - portrait of "little Mae-Mae". According to police, Alvarez fired a gun, the weapon jammed and Alvarez pulled out three other shells and gave them to "little Mae-Mae". "Little Mae-Mae" then handed them back, after which Alvarez reloaded the gun. After the shooting was over, the three fled to the home of a fellow gang member to hide the gun. And although the two males planned the drive-by shooting, "little Mae-Mae" was all for it because "she was tired of being disrespected". Pathetic, itz.
Among other things, "little Mae-Mae" was charged as an adult because she gave the bullets back to Alvarez knowing that he intended to reload the weapon to shoot it and she also "actively encouraged and participated" in the drive-by shooting, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller. So "little Mae-Mae" isn't exactly the angelic little darling her uncle portrays her to be.
And as long as parents and relatives front for scum like "little Mae-Mae", we will continue to produce a steady supply of "little Mae-Maes". Does Ira Deschene realize how pathetic he sounds simply by referring to her as "little Mae-Mae"? Parents need to quit advocating and fronting for the kids and start raising and disciplining them once again.
One bright spot is that Salt Lake authorities now seem to be taking the gang problem more seriously. According to another KSL report, in the days following Maria Menchaca's murder, police arrested 20 people, recovered four stolen vehicles, an assault rifle and three handguns. With more focused surveillance, law enforcement officers are arresting a couple gang-affiliated criminals a day. And just today, the Deseret News reports that Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, Police Chief Chris Burbank, and other community leaders met to brainstorm further solutions. They want to "push and push until it rolls over on its own".
And outlying cities are likewise ramping up their efforts. Last night, KTVX reported that Orem police are leaning on gangbangers in their community, and after one month, are showing positive results.
But the question is, are these just transitory efforts to be quietly abandoned after the media spotlights shifts somewhere else, or will these become permanent measures?