Outside a murder trial at Ventura County Superior Court on Thursday, the parents of a slain 20-year-old and his accused killer tearfully refused to admit that youth gangs in Oxnard even exist.
Inside the courtroom, a smooth-faced 17-year-old member of the Satanas described the weaponry, racist hatred and gang allegiance that culminated in the Nov. 22 slaying.
The two faces of Oxnard gang activity--death and disbelief--emerged with painful clarity in the trial of Arnel Salagubang, 20, a reputed member of a Filipino gang known as the Satanas.
Salagubang is charged with first-degree murder, inflicting great bodily harm and use of a weapon in the death of Manuel (Deadeye) Rodriguez, a member of a Latino gang called the Lemonwood Chiques.
An imaginary line along Bard Road has always separated Oxnard's Latino and Filipino residents, said the victim's grandmother, Stella Geraldo.
But Bard Road has never been a gang turf border, because gangs do not exist in Oxnard, she said.
"We've always called Oxnard 'Chiques' so why they call it a gang, I don't know," Geraldo said as she waited in the hallway for testimony to resume. "Those are his friends, they're not gang members. . . . I've never seen him with a gang. He has never carried a weapon. He never carried a knife; he never carried a gun; he never came home with black-and-blue marks."
Salagubang "belongs on the other side of Bard Road. Manny belongs on this side, Lemonwood," she said.
Rodriguez's mother, Martha Geraldo, sniffed back tears and said, "Manny had just started to change and settle down" when he was killed; he had rented an apartment for his girlfriend and their 14-month-old son.
Just down the hallway, the defendant's mother, Presentacion Salagubang, wept softly behind dark glasses.
"I feel bad for Arnel's mother. She's crying," Martha Geraldo said. "She's losing him too. We buried Manny, but she's not burying her son."
Salagubang's mother declined to comment, but his father said, "Sometimes I would think we would be better off dead than in the position he's in right now."
Felipe Salagubang said he first learned that his son was a gang member at the preliminary hearing for his murder trial in January. He had never noticed the burn scars that fellow Satanas had put onto his son's hands during initiation, he said.
"I still believe that my son didn't do it," Felipe Salagubang said. "He's not the type of person that could do this type of crime. He's never been involved in any type of crime. His demeanor overall is not violent."
Inside the courtroom, however, a Satanas member told a different story, describing how he provided the .22-caliber derringer that Salagubang used to kill Rodriguez.
Jesse Cortinas testified that Salagubang shot Rodriguez once in the head after Rodriguez had cruised past Channel Islands High School shouting challenges and racist slurs at a group of Satanas.
"He was challenging all of us," Cortinas testified.
"What was he yelling?" asked defense attorney Willard P. Wiksell.
Cortinas, who has agreed to testify against Salagubang and plead guilty to murder in juvenile court to avoid being prosecuted as an adult, replied that Rodriquez had shouted several racial slurs derogatory to Asians.
Salagubang said, "Gimme the gat," or gun, Cortinas testified.
Cortinas said he handed the tiny, loaded pistol to Salagubang because he believed that Rodriguez was reaching for a gun of his own.
Cortinas testified that Salagubang then walked up to Rodriguez, saying, "You want some of this?"
Rodriguez replied, "Go ahead, shoot me," and Salagubang shot him, Cortinas testified.
Salagubang then hopped into his own car, saying that he had made a "big-time" mistake, Cortinas testified.
At the defense table, Salagubang listened, his knees jiggling nervously and eyes cast downward to his folded hands.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.