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Stabbing Was Self-Defense, D.A. Says : Law: Officials decline to file murder charges against Newhall man in death of 17-year-old Jimmy Yoguez last week.


SANTA CLARITA — The district attorney's office declined Monday to file murder charges against an 18-year-old Newhall man who stabbed a Val Verde teen-ager last week, saying the man apparently acted in self-defense.

Franklin Giovanni Leon, who stabbed Jimmy Yoguez, 17, "indicated that he was approached by three individuals, including the victim, and each of them were carrying metal pipes," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Damon.

"An altercation ensued and he killed the victim in self-defense, and there are no other independent witnesses to disprove the suspect's version of the events," Damon said.

Sheriff's deputies called the stabbing the first gang-related death in Santa Clarita in six years, an incident that has stunned residents of this mostly suburban community.

At a news conference after the decision was made Monday morning, deputies expressed frustration that anonymous callers are flooding them with meaningless "tips" in the case.

"We've never gotten so many calls," said Deputy Joe Dombrowski. "But we can't really use any of it because they don't give us names or places."

Friends and family who gathered at a wake for the dead youth at Eternal Valley Memorial Park Mortuary said Monday that the death has sent a shock wave through the community.

But they insisted that the boy was not a gang member.

One friend, who did not want to give his name, said, "People judge you by the way you look, that you're a gang member if you have a shaved head, and that ain't true."

Connie Ortez, 33, who is a friend of Jimmy's mother and whose daughters took swimming lessons at the pool where Jimmy was a lifeguard, said she could not believe Jimmy was a gang member. "I know he wasn't," she said firmly.

The stabbing "was not your typical" gang assault, Deputy Tony Miano told the news conference.

Sheriff's deputies described a series of altercations that took place throughout the day last Tuesday, the date of the stabbing, between members of rival gangs from Newhall and Val Verde in the Newhall area.

Deputies said Leon, a member of a Newhall gang, lost a fistfight to Val Verde gang members in Newhall and returned later to retrieve a bicycle.

Two men who deputies identified as Val Verde gang members--Noe Corona, 25, and Hermilo Talamantez, 22--told deputies they had gone to the scene of the fight in a pickup truck with Jimmy. On arrival, they said, Jimmy and Talamantez got out of the truck and split up.

Talamantez said he suddenly heard Jimmy yell out their gang's name and he saw him standing in the middle of the street, clutching his chest. They called paramedics from a nearby house.

Leon contradicted this story, telling deputies that all three Val Verde gang members approached him carrying what appeared to be metal pipes and he jabbed at the first one with a small, folding knife in self-defense.

Paramedics were called a little before 8 p.m. and Jimmy died at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital of a stab wound in the heart about half an hour later.

Leon was not freed, but was transferred Monday from the sheriff's station in Newhall to Sylmar Juvenile Hall on charges of violating probation for an assortment of gang-related convictions, deputies said.

Meanwhile, Corona and Talamantez were arrested on suspicion of assault for instigating the fight with Leon.

The district attorney's rejection of the case, combined with the arrests of the stabbing victim's friends, could exacerbate already smoldering tensions between Newhall and Val Verde gangs, sheriff's deputies said. The sheriff's anti-gang unit has stepped up its efforts to reduce tensions.

Friends of Jimmy at the funeral said that they were not afraid of gang retaliations.

Shane Coleman, a Val Verde resident who works closely with young people including gang members, said that he circulated a letter in the community urging calm.

Coleman also wrote a song about Jimmy, and had his family and friends sing on a recording of the tune, he said. Taped copies of the song will be sold to help pay for the funeral, he said. Coleman said he wrote the song because his two sons were friends of Jimmy.

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