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| Crime |

Graffiti Conviction Out of Character for 42-Year-Old Gang Member; Marcos Mejia Given One-Year Sentence

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Phoenix prosecutor Will Gonzalez says he's "fascinated" by the case of Marcos Mejia, the 42-year-old graffiti vandal who recently received a one-year jail sentence for tagging.

Not only is that the toughest punishment ever given to someone in the city's history for a graffiti crime, Gonzalez says, but it's plain "odd" to see someone of Mejia's age spraying gang initials on a wall.

Mejia is a veteran gangbanger from the 1980s, but the "original gangsters" typically get the newbies to mark up territory.

Another weird thing: Mejia also has an otherwise clean record (as far as we could tell). Court records on the county and Supreme Court Web sites show that, except for this year's graffiti conviction, Mejia hasn't been busted for anything locally other than for a 2001 traffic violation.

Apparently, Mejia just snapped one day in January of last year -- possibly after his son suffered a stroke.

Gonzalez says that on the day, witnesses reported that Mejia had been seen storming the streets near 77th Avenue and Indianola, not far from where he lived part-time with his father.

Mejia walked up to several people at random and challenged them to fight. Nobody would take him up on the offer, though, and that's when he whipped out the spray-paint can and began his prolific spree, Gonzalez says.

Mejia scrawled gang initials on 15 separate properties, in broad daylight.

One of the reasons the city wanted to throw the book at Mejia was that authorities had "never had somebody do what he did," the prosecutors says.

Mejia was cocky and impudent about the crime when police caught up to him. He told the arresting officers that his son had suffered a stroke and he was having a bad day, Gonzalez says. But he wasn't crying about it, the prosecutor added -- he said it sort of "as a matter of fact."

That was another oddity of the case for Gonzalez: If the part about the son was true, it might have helped to bring in the mother of the child to testify on his behalf.

As mentioned in yesterday's blog post about Mejia, neighbors and activists came out of the woodwork to testify against the gang member, leading Judge Gloria Ybarra to her harsh sentence. Mejia has been ordered to surrender to the Maricopa County jail later this month and begin serving a solid one year.

Though the sentence may be a record for Phoenix, it's not the worst thing to happen to a tagger.

One Texas tagger received an eight-year prison sentence last year, while another who faced a similar prison term had his sentence knocked back to two years.

Both of those sentences seem even harsher than the punishment recently ordered for a 32-year-old Swiss man convicted last month of spray-painting a train in Singapore: Five months in jail and three strokes of a cane.

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