By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
YOUR DEATH IS WHAT THE LAW CALLS SECOND-DEGREE MURDER AND IT IS AN INJUSTICE.
CHILDREN INITIATED INTO GANGS ARE PRE-MEDITATING MURDER, BY CARRYING GUNS
WITH INTENT TO FIRE THEM AT GROUPS OF PEOPLE. HOW CAN WE CONTINUE TO CONDONE THIS
PROBLEM OF OUR TIMES? THE GANGS, THEY ARE A MALADY OF OUR AGE.
BROTHER OF MINE, SINCE YOU ARE AN ANGEL NOW, IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY OVER US,
THEN DO IT. WE NEED YOUR GRACES TO CHANGE.
-- excerpt from "I Could Talk to You About Many Things," a poem written by Concha Madril, submitted to a judge prior to the 1998 sentencing of 17-year-old Jason Sanchez Vasquez for the murder of Concha's brother, Jesse Madril
A few hours before he was murdered by a 17-year-old boy, Jesse Madril informed his elderly mother that he was off to his 42nd birthday bash at a cousin's house in Guadalupe.
Jesse borrowed $10 from his mother, Felipa Maldonado, and promised he'd return to her Guadalupe home later that evening.
Neither Felipa nor Jesse's sisters Concha Madril and Lucia Madril were invited to the birthday party, held on December 13, 1997.
That was to be expected.
Felipa, Concha and Lucia all disliked the Guadalupe party scene -- five or six parties take place every Friday and Saturday night in the small town nestled between Tempe and Phoenix just east of Interstate 10.
Lucia, then 38, an ex-gang member and a recovering heroin addict, had experienced her share of wild Guadalupe nightlife. As a teenager, she helped form the gang Varrio Guadalupe Eastside. (Police files from the early 1980s document her membership.) She carried a gun and liked scaring people with it. She lived on the streets. She went to jail. She got tattoos.
Felipa, a Yaqui Indian, had disowned Lucia for years, until Lucia was clean and sober and disavowed la vida loca. Forced to choose between her gang and her family, Lucia ultimately chose her family. She has been out of the gang for 13 years, and now Lucia and her mother seem inseparable.
Concha, meanwhile, had always been the "good" sister. She tried to please her mother and got a master's degree in social work from the University of Southern California. At the time Jesse was murdered, Concha was 48. She'd worked for years with Guadalupe families and knew how violent the parties became when visited by gangitos, teenage gang members.
Concha sees gangitos as neglected, lonely children, but when they take drugs and alcohol, they crash parties, pull out guns and knives and pick senseless, sometimes fatal fights to impress their homies. Concha had heard such fights were sometimes planned as part of gang initiations.
Of course, gang members threatened retribution to ratas -- anyone who informed the chota, or the cops, about their activities. To inform on a gang member violated the "Code of the Streets."
Lucia and Concha also knew that many Guadalupanos unwittingly made the problem worse -- they were so intimidated by teenage gang members that few dared voice or organize opposition to gang violence.
But 18 months after Jesse's death, the sisters and their 76-year-old mother have decided to tell what they know about the murder of Jesse Madril.
They realize they may be risking their lives by implicating gang members, but to stay silent, they say, only enables expanding gangs to get a stronger grip on their little town.
They see their brother's death as emblematic of rampant but neglected gang violence in Guadalupe -- ritualistic violence that is dismissed as random crime and benignly neglected by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which has a contract with the Town of Guadalupe to provide police services.
They say the sheriff's office failed to conduct even a cursory investigation to see if Jesse's death was linked to a gang initiation. With a proper investigation, they say, prosecutors could have invoked state racketeering statutes, prosecuted more people and asked for stiffer sentences for those allegedly involved in Jesse's murder, sending a clear message that gang violence will no longer be tolerated in Guadalupe.
If this had happened, they believe, then Jesse Madril would not have died in vain.
But it did not happen.
"When you know justice has been served, the heart is more tranquil," says Felipa, who speaks only Spanish.
"But Jesse's case was handled unjustly."
Jesse's family can tick off Guadalupe's gang crimes -- and the victims -- on their fingers. Murders. Drive-bys. Assaults. Armed robberies. Drug deals.
But they believe gangs are so pervasive because Guadalupe is a town in denial.
The sheriff's office and town leaders steadfastly maintain there are few gang-related crimes in the community.
Jesse's family wonders if town leaders, eager to encourage tourism, want deputies to downplay and disguise gang violence in Guadalupe.
Or they ask themselves if Anglo deputies who speak no Spanish fail to recognize gang crimes in Guadalupe simply because they can't begin to gather intelligence about their close-knit, Yaqui-Latino community.
"They can be very kind," says Concha of the deputies assigned to Guadalupe. "But they are Anglos. They don't speak Spanish. They don't speak Yaqui. Their knowledge of gangs is very superficial. . . . They conduct fly-by-night investigations and sweep gang violence under the rug.