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Rodarte's drug habit led to a possession of marijuana arrest in 1997 and probation. An April 1997 pre-sentence report stemming from the marijuana charge stated that Rodarte "does not appear to pose a significant threat to the community. He has no history of violent or aggressive behaviors."
Rodarte completed most of the requirements of his probation, including 360 hours of community service and a substance-abuse outpatient program.
However, Rodarte found it difficult to resist the temptations of the gang life and unconditional acceptance offered by Medina.
In September 1997, Rodarte and several other LCM gang members severely beat a man whom Medina believed was a police informant. Although the assault was reported to police, no arrests were made for 18 months.
By the spring of 1998, Rodarte was in love with Toni Marie Lucero, and for the first time he was no longer spending much time with LCM homeboys.
"In '98, he met his girlfriend Toni, who completely changed his life," his sister Lisa Anna Medrano wrote to Judge Galati. "He was not hanging out with his friends. He wouldn't even go to parties any more."
Then, Lucero was killed.
Rodarte returned to his homeboys. In November 1998, he was involved in an armed robbery. On March 31 -- the day that police finally notified Norberto Rosales Davalos' family of his death -- Rodarte was arrested during the police roundup of LCM gangbangers. Small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia were found in his room.
Medina had been arrested 11 days before Rodarte. During a videotaped interview, Medina ratted on his most loyal friend, Rodarte, telling police that Rodarte and several other LCM gang members were involved in the September 1997 beating of the supposed police informant.
Less than a year after his girlfriend's death, Rodarte faced felony charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of marijuana. And, significantly, he was charged with participating in a criminal street gang.
Yet Rodarte refused to cooperate with police during his interrogation. He declined requests by New Times to be interviewed. And rather than fighting the cases in court, where other gang members could be implicated in crimes, Rodarte agreed to a series of plea agreements.
Prior to his sentencing, which could have landed Rodarte in prison for up to 10 years, Judge Galati received numerous letters on his behalf. Most urged the judge to place Rodarte into a drug rehabilitation program.
His mother told the judge she had turned around her life and asked that he consider that in sentencing Rodarte.
"I have been clean now for eight years and I help a lot at my church," she wrote. "You know, sometimes all a boy needs is one last chance."
On November 3, Margarito "Lito" Rodarte, less than two months shy of his 21st birthday, was sentenced to five years in the state prison.
Felix Medina, the man who betrayed Rodarte, is in the Maricopa County jail pending his February trial on felony charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault, kidnapping, weapons misconduct and participating in a criminal street gang.
Many of his childhood friends ran with the Eastside LCM gang. Some of them died. Some of them went to prison. Some of them disappeared.
None of his eighth-grade classmates at Herrera Middle School graduated from high school.
Valdez, 23, not only graduated from high school -- becoming the first person in his family to achieve such honors -- he's nearing completion of studies at Arizona State University.
"One of the main reasons I see how I made it through the system was my family," Valdez says. "My mom and dad really stressed education. When I was out on the streets, or out after nine at night -- my mom would get in the car, go down the streets and find me.
"She would come and pull me into the car. Everyone would laugh and I would be mad."
As peer pressure mounted, Valdez says he would try to sneak to school without his backpack and school books.
"Back then, to carry a backpack, you were a nerd," he says. "I wanted to be in the in crowd."
Unlike many of his peers, Valdez lived with both parents, and with their guidance, he kept carrying those books. He has managed to maintain his connection with the neighborhood while discovering the world outside the barrio.
"When I leave here and go to school, it's like a different world for me," he says.
But those differences don't necessarily mean it's better outside Milpas. For Valdez, life in the barrio remains vital.
"I plan on living here my whole life. I really don't want to leave because I'm so close to my family," he says.
It's also important, he says, to maintain his respect with his peers in the neighborhood.
"I don't change my dress, my attitude, my ideology, my philosophy when it comes to neighborhood," he says.
"School is one of the least important things on my list. First thing is my family, and then my community."
Valdez says people confuse the Las Cuatro Milpas gang with the Las Cuatro Milpas barrio.