A Question of Hope

One family's struggle to escape the devastation of gang culture

"He said that I would be seeing a lot of him in the next two years and that there was danger from infection every time he opened up Boy's skull. He said Joseph was going to die. I just looked at him and started to cry."

It is this news that Adela had tried unsuccessfully to communicate the day before when Joseph refused to sleep.

"That's what doctors told me three years ago, that he was about to die," says Adela. "It just scares me so. There is no happiness in waiting. It doesn't make it so just because a doctor says so. Boy's real physician is God. God is the one above my son, not no doctor, no matter how gifted he is.

Adela dotes on Boy.
Adela dotes on Boy.
Top: Yvonne Montiel and son Ray-Ray

Middle: Sara Ayala

Bottom: Adela McCormick
photos by Paolo Vescia
Top: Yvonne Montiel and son Ray-Ray
Middle: Sara Ayala
Bottom: Adela McCormick

"If it's really true, if it's going to happen, I want to get in every minute. Nobody else means anything to me in terms of where I spend my time. I don't know where he leaves off and I begin."

Adela's life now is a matter of miracles, with her son upon a precipice that appears to be crumbling.

"This is why I get depressed," says Adela. "I don't have the faith my son has. I have always said I wished I was more like Boy, that I had his faith. But I am not strong enough."

Perhaps.

But Adela is strong enough to keep fighting.

Because she is one-quarter Yaqui Indian, she has written to the tribe and asked for a grant from the reservation's casino to underwrite physical therapy for Boy. The request is under consideration.

Adela's next goal, she says, is to take her son out of the long-term-care facility and move him into her home.

Smiley's Second Trial

This month, on the third anniversary of her son's shooting, Adela McCormick boarded a bus in Flagstaff and made the three-hour journey to the Phoenix terminal. She took her old room in the home of the sympathetic couple who boarded her while she nursed her son. During the day, she sat in the courtroom with Rosemary Ramirez and watched Carmen Fisher defend Michael Rivera for the murder of Rosemary's daughter, Megan.

Megan Ramirez was killed five months after Rivera was acquitted of murder and aggravated assault in the Ayala shootings.

On the evening of March 20, 1998, Rivera, a bouncer at Club Caliente, became enraged when he saw his girlfriend, Megan, talking with Anthony Luna.

Rivera believed that Luna was a member of the Wedgewood gang, which he blamed for killing a friend from West Side Chicanos, Jesse "Droopy" Moreno, several weeks earlier. Megan had no role in that killing, was not herself a member of any gang and was not carrying on romantically with Luna.

Her only offense was talking to the man.

Rivera rounded up Megan's best friend, Victoria Valenzuela, and another woman, Katherine Saiz, together with a fellow member of West Side Chicanos, Marcario "Bulldog" Vela. The four of them, armed with two pistols and a sawed-off shotgun, drove to Megan's apartment and forced their way in.

When Megan refused to leave, Rivera, who carried a revolver, threatened to take the 14-year-old baby sitter instead.

Megan relented and left her four children in the apartment with the baby sitter while she climbed into the back seat of the Honda that belonged to her best friend, Valenzuela.

Rivera drove to alfalfa fields on the far west side and shot his girlfriend twice as she begged for her life. The gun was then passed around and the others all pumped rounds into Megan.

Rivera yelled that the shooting was all about "Droopy" and West Side Chicanos.

At the trial, a police witness testified that they had no record of Luna being associated with the rival Wedgewood gang. Two individuals who claim Wedgewood membership also alleged in conversations outside the courtroom that Luna was not in their gang.

As Adela sat through the trial and prayed for a conviction, intimidation of witnesses played a major role in the prosecution of Michael Rivera, as it had at Rivera's first murder trial.

The jury was kept out of the room as the attorneys argued over the sheriff's inability to keep the jailed Rivera away from Saiz and Valenzuela, who were also in lockup. One morning the trial was interrupted after Rivera shouted threats to Valenzuela while both were confined in adjoining holding tanks awaiting escort into the courtroom.

During a break in the proceedings, Valenzuela's mother, Betty Holguin, said she fears for Victoria's life. Her daughter had accepted a 12-year sentence in return for testimony against Rivera, and she worried that his gang would kill her in prison.

"I've known Michael for 11 years," says Holguin. "He used to date my oldest girl. When she broke up with him, he burned our house down. He was never prosecuted. Because he's in that gang, they provided him with all sorts of alibis. But I saw him leaving the house when the flames broke out.

"Since Victoria's been in jail, she's been threatened again and again. Michael's told her himself that she knows what will happen if she opens her mouth. His friends in jail have told her they will maul her face."

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