A Question of Hope

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

All of the Gutierrez family had disappeared by the time of the trial except for one daughter, the teenaged Angelina, who did testify against Rivera.

Attorney Carmen Fisher was not content with the police department's written summary of their taped interview with eyewitness Angelina Gutierrez. When the attorney obsessively reviewed the video of the interrogation, she discovered that the detective left the room for a short period, leaving the teenager alone with her father.

Angelina told her dad, "I helped who killed him."

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

When the girl lied under oath during the trial, the meticulously prepared Fisher took Gutierrez apart. Twice, the witness called Fisher a "bitch" from the witness stand.

The state's case was wrecked.

Although the prosecution initially listed Joseph Ayala Jr. as a witness, at the time of the trial he was unable to signal answers with his fingers.

It is impossible to describe the level of remorse and bitterness that Adela McCormick feels toward a legal system that jailed her boy for more than four years on car theft, but freed the man charged with shooting off the top of her son's head.

After the trial, Adela's husband, George, fashioned a homemade bumper sticker that read, "Criminal Lawyers Are Ramora Fish." He mailed it to Fisher.

The family's debilitating hatred of the system, however, extends well beyond the bungled prosecution.

Her son's probation officer had refused to let Joseph Ayala Jr. attend the California Bible college to which he'd won a full scholarship. The officer stood firm; out-of-state schools were a technical violation of policy. Had he been allowed to attend the divinity courses, Joseph would have been in class instead of trying vainly to bring his father to Christ and repair a car's power steering.

On many days, Adela's despair is oceanic in depth.

Dad

If you ask Adela how her life came to this, her easiest, if not fullest, answer implicates her first husband, Joseph Ayala Sr.

Adela divorced her husband after 15 years of his violence and womanizing. The decision was a difficult one for Adela.

Eventually, she overcame her Mexican-Catholic heritage and divorced Joseph in 1981.

Boy was 9 years old when his folks separated, but in that short childhood he witnessed a ferocious relationship.

"Their dad was a Jekyll and Hyde," remembers Adela. "He was a butcher during the week, and he always worked. You can't live with me unless you work. But on weekends he'd drink and try to beat on me."

In Adela's world, you do not call the cops. You deal with your trouble.

And Mexican women did not get divorced. Her mother followed the Catholic Church's prohibition on divorce and passed the same message to Adela.

"And why should I bother? All the men I saw were dogs," says Adela.

She was not, however, given to meekness when assaulted.

"I gave as good as I got. I would kick him in the nose. I thought that was the way life was supposed to be," she says. "I'd throw him out of the house on weekends, but we fought physically right from the beginning."

Evicting her husband did not solve anything; in fact, when he wasn't living at home, he shot heroin.

"I didn't know he was doing it," says Adela, who, despite her grit, can be unworldly. "He always said that I was a lamebrain square."

After the divorce, Joseph battled with Adela for his children's affection. It was an uneven contest. Adela was strict and quick to lash out with her hands. She was naive to the pleasures of the street and unable to find the right words to reach the kids. Joseph was wild and rough, a man who did drugs and got high with his kids but who never laid a hand on them. He was more friend than parent.

"I think going to live with his father was the problem," Adela says of her son's car-theft arrest. "Their father had no rules. When Boy lived with me, he never got in trouble."

It might be more accurate to say he never got caught, according to his sister Yvonne. She says Boy was stealing bicycles at the age of 16 and selling ounces of pot supplied by his father even before he decided to move into the old man's apartment.

If it strikes you as odd that Boy's father was his drug connection, it is the sort of unsettling reality that his children accepted without much question.

Sara remembers drinking with her father as a teenager.

"At least I wasn't out roaming around. It might be bad," says Sara, "but he got to keep an eye on me. I was doing it anyway."

She says that when she left Adela's home to live with her father at the age of 16, she was trying to escape her mom's strict rules. Though life was relaxed at her dad's, she says he tried, unsuccessfully, to keep her in school.

"He would get out of bed to drive me to class when I was late," says Sara. She says that she was surprised to learn after he died that he'd been using heroin for years.

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