Francisco Gamez and a friend were on their way to pick up Francisco's wedding tuxedo one day in late 1982 when they heard shots ring out from a car speeding through the alley behind the Gamez home in Eagle Rock.
Gamez, 22, and Luis Silva, 23, interrupted their errand to chase the fleeing car, hoping, police said later, to catch a glimpse of the license plate.
A few minutes later, less than two miles away, that decision cost both young men their lives.
On Tuesday, the first of eight members of the Satanas gang to be tried in connection with the killings was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
Simplicio Mortel, 26, of Glendale, also was convicted of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit murder.
The jurors convicted Mortel after one day of deliberation, even though none of the prosecution's witnesses said they saw him pull the trigger. Instead, much of the testimony focused on statements that Mortel and other gang members made both before and after the shootings, the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick R. Dixon, said.
But Dixon said he is convinced that Mortel personally wielded one of the weapons that killed the two young men.
The prosecution's chief witness, Romeo Bayani, was a fellow member of the Satanas, an ethnic Philippine gang. He was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of attempted murder in exchange for his testimony and awaits sentencing.
During Mortel's trial, Bayani and other witnesses described the events that led to the deaths of Silva and Gamez.
On the evening of Dec. 22, 1982, members of the Satanas gathered at a restaurant in Hollywood to discuss plans for avenging the death of a comrade, whose funeral they had just attended, Dixon said. They agreed to raid the Eagle Rock neighborhood frequented by members of the Avenues, a rival gang that the Satanas believed was responsible for their friend's death.
Five days later, two cars, each carrying four Satanas, set out from the home of the gang's reputed leader.
One car, in which Mortel was a passenger, drove through the alley behind the Gamez house and shots were fired. Authorities are still not sure whether the gang members were firing at Gamez and Silva, who were not gang members, or at someone else.
Led to Dead-End
Gamez and Silva gave chase and were led to a steep dead-end intersection less than two miles away, where the gang members jammed on their brakes, Dixon said.
The gang members later bragged, according to testimony, that they got out of their car and immediately shot Gamez through the head. Silva was shot in the back, shoulder and head as he tried to escape.
Meanwhile, gang members in the second car drove through another neighborhood, shooting at two young men. Even though Mortel was not in the second car, he was convicted of those assaults because the jury found that he was a party to the overall conspiracy, Dixon said.
Mortel's attorney, John Yzurdiaga, said Tuesday that he will file a motion for a new trial because of what he called inconsistent verdicts by the jurors.
Special Circumstance Not Found
The defendant was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the second degree, Yzurdiaga noted, but convicted of two counts of murder in the first degree. In addition, jurors did not find the so-called special circumstance of multiple killings, even though they convicted Mortel of two murders. Had they returned a favorable verdict on the special circumstance allegation, Mortel could have faced the death penalty.
Dixon acknowledged that the verdicts were unusual, but said they do not pose any legal problems for the prosecution.
Mortel could face a prison term of 55 years to life when he is sentenced Aug. 13 by Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Sam Bubrick.