US Judge Manuel Real denied Father Gregory Boyle, nationally-known for his gang prevention work, the opportunity to testify as an expert defense witness for Alex Sanchez on Monday, then promptly denied Sanchez bail while reading from prepared notes.
The prosecution’s fear was that the widely-respected Jesuit priest would dismantle the state’s gang conspiracy case based on his long experience with street gangs in Los Angeles and El Salvador. They received immediate relief from Judge Real who dismissed Boyle’s right to testify on the confusing grounds that Boyle thinks Sanchez is innocent.
Fr. Boyle planned to testify whether four wiretapped phone calls showed that Sanchez was a danger to the community or a risk of flight, as the government maintains. The priest’s testimony challenged the expert testimony of former LAPD CRASH officer Frank Flores, whose account of the wiretaps left out whole sections revealing that Sanchez was not a gang shot caller and not involved in a murder plot. Boyle’s testimony, over 25 pages in submitted form, challenged the entire prosecution claim that Sanchez leads a double life. Even though Boyle’s testimony, over 25 pages as submitted, examined the four wiretapped phone calls consistent with the judge’s request, the judge kept the priest off the stand, asserting that the testimony was somehow irrelevent. “Father Boyle thinks the defendant is innocent, but that’s not we’re here for,” the judge said.
It was the most powerful blow against Sanchez, a gang intervention leader, during a hearing in which the judge repeatedly interrupted and lectured Sanchez’ court-appointed lawyer, Pasadena attorney Kerry Bensinger. “If it’s going to go on like this, it’s not going anywhere,” said the judge at one point.
The most revealing revelation of the day came during Bensinger’s cross examination of Flores. In his lengthy interpretation of the wiretaps, Flores omitted any reference to an exchange between Walter Lacinos (“Cameron”) and Sanchez (“Rebelde”) in which Lacinos says two times with irritation that Sanchez should not be on the phone call at all because he is no longer an active gang member, which would undermine the government’s contention that Sanchez was a shot caller. Sanchez replies on the wiretaps that he has joined the phone call to respond to threats on his life and rumors that he was an FBI informant.
Asked how he failed to report such an important exchange to the court, Flores could only reply that he thought Lacinos’ remarks were “tongue in cheek” and a “slap back.”
The judge also refused the testimony of Rosemary Ashmalla, an expert on the provision of tattoo removal services. The prosecution has claimed that Sanchez, while claiming to promote tattoo removals, secretly has a gang tattoo on his chest. Ashmalla was to testify that gang tattoo removals typically target the hands, neck and face, in order to make re-entry to the job market possible. The judge ruled her testimony “irrelevent” because she didn’t personally oversee Sanchez’ tattoo removals. But her testimony was to address why a tattoo would not be removed from the chest, not why Sanchez had tattoos removed from visible parts of his body.
In the wrap up arguments for bail, Bensinger stressed the enormous outpouring of community support, including $2.5 million proffered in property sureties and funds. The prosecution, apparently confident of the judge’s protection, argued that Sanchez’ broad support was proof that he would be “uniquely able to flee” if given bail.
The judge claimed that none of the many letters supporting Sanchez addressed the question of his showing up for court appearances if given bail. There were gasps in the courtroom from many individuals who thought their letters addressed that issue exactly. For example, the former Los Angeles FBI director, Thomas Parker, actually assured the judge that he would personally accompany Sanchez to court if he was freed on bail.
The feeling among friends and family who witnessed the hearing was that, despite hopes in previous weeks, there would be zero possibility of a fair trial for Sanchez in Real’s courtroom. There will be appeals to the federal circuit court, but those will take months.