Marked Man

Felix Medina and his gang compatriots ruthlessly ruled a south central neighborhood. Now the party's over.

Then Medina made a crucial decision. He started giving the police the names of fellow gang members.

"They told me that Lito hit him with a bottle," Medina said, referring to his most loyal subject, Margarito Rodarte.

"You and I both know that Lito wasn't the only one who did it," replied Stephenson, who was relying primarily on a statement by Miguel.

Medina glances at family members during a September court appearance.
Paolo Vescia
Medina glances at family members during a September court appearance.

"Yeah, we know that," said Medina.

"I know the other guys. You probably don't want to give them up," Stephenson said.

Medina paused.

"Hold on. Hold on. I might. I might. Hold on. I'm trying to think who that was," Medina said.

Stephenson reeled in his catch.

"While you think about it, think to yourself whether or not these guys would protect you," Stephenson said.

"No, I know they won't. I know," Medina replied.

"That's probably why you're staying with the baby because you know they would tell on you," the detective said.


"When it comes right down to it, do they stick by you? You know better than that," Stephenson said.

Medina pondered for a moment, picking at the bottom of his shoe, then blurted, "Was it Baby Joe? 'Cause I think they said Baby Joe had something to do with it. Baby Joe. I think that's the only one I remember."

(Police records indicate Baby Joe was not involved in the assault.)

"I know of one other," Stephenson replied. "I can't believe you don't know. . . . I know you know who the other guy is. Think hard about whether this guy is protecting you."

"Give me a name and I'll honestly tell you yes or no," Medina replied.

"I'll throw out some names and you tell me if they were there. Was Indio there?"

"No," said Medina.

"Was Fat Ray there?"

"He might have had something to do with it," Medina said. "I think he got his little hits in there."

In the span of minutes, Medina informed on three of his closest gang associates -- including one who wasn't even involved. Before the interview ended, Medina had ratted out one more gang member, saying he had used a gun in a crime.

Ironically, Rodarte, Munguia and Valenzuela had not been questioned on the assault and robbery of Miguel. The three were not arrested until 11 days later.

And when they were questioned, each kept silent, never mentioning Medina's alleged role. Police allege Medina stole jewelry from Miguel, yelling, "You owe me, punk."

Asked about the assault on Miguel, Rodarte told Stephenson that Miguel "got his ass kicked pretty much. I don't really remember that much."

Munguia refused to discuss any incidents with Stephenson. "I'll just deal with it in court," Munguia said.

Valenzuela confirmed that Miguel got "his ass beat bad" and admitted that he kicked him after Miguel bled on his car. But Valenzuela refused to name anyone else involved in the beating.

He told Stephenson he would fear for his life if he gave up anyone's name.

"I know I would die," Valenzuela said. "No hesitation. There's no mercy."

No one has ever escaped from Special Management Units I & II at the Arizona State Prison in Florence.

That's where Death Row is.

And that's where the state keeps several hundred confirmed prison gang members locked up nearly 24 hours a day in computer-controlled, single-bunk cells.

The prison gang members are isolated from the general inmate population because they are prone to kill rival gang members on sight.

There are 389 documented gang inmates in Arizona, and an unknown number of inmates whose gang affiliation has not been determined by prison officials.

The violent nature of prison gangs has a direct impact on criminal street gangs.

"Just about everyone who is a member of a [prison gang] was at one time or another a member of a criminal street gang," says Todd Gerrish, a DOC Security Threat Group Unit supervisor.

To many street gang members, serving a stint in prison and becoming a member of a prison gang is akin to going to one of the nation's top graduate schools.

Once released from custody, a prison gang member often returns to his street gang and resumes criminal activities, but now in a leadership role as a veterano.

Street gangs often become dormant after a powerful leader is arrested or killed. The street gang may languish for years, only to resurrect with the release from prison of a former member who has ascended into prison gang ranks.

It's a revolving door of crime, with the most violent rising to the top.

There are about a half-dozen prison gangs in the Arizona prison system. The strongest and most violent are the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood, the Border Brothers (Mexican nationals) and the New Mexican Mafia for Latinos from the United States.

Admittance to prison gangs is strictly controlled. Prospects must complete a series of tasks before they are "patched in" to a prison gang; the tasks include murder and assault.

Once an inmate is accepted into a prison gang, his former association with his criminal street gang becomes secondary. Prison gang members released from custody may return to their old neighborhood and commit crimes with their street gang, but their primary loyalty is to the prison gang.

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