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Ventura County

Suspect Not Gang Member, Jury Told

May 24, 2001|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rosana Olvera, charged with the beating death of a Ventura teenager, does not belong to a gang. But she invited gang members into her home, allowing them to party there, sleep there, even live there, a gang expert testified Wednesday.

"She maintains a house that welcomes them," testified Sgt. Mark Stadler, a gang expert with the Ventura Police Department. "A lot of them would like to have a parent like Rosana. She enables them to have a local hangout and associate with other . . . gang members."

Stadler testified in the murder trial of Olvera and three others charged in the slaying of William Zara, an 18-year-old who prosecutors say was bludgeoned to death with a shovel and baseball bat by a group of gang members who mistakenly thought he had summoned the police to quiet their loud party at a house across the street from his apartment.

That East Warner Street house, prosecutors said, belonged to 37-year-old Rosana Olvera and her husband Frank Olvera, 23. The Olveras and party-goers Terry Schell, 23, and Benny Lopez, 20, are all charged with murder and conspiracy to commit an assault for the Sept. 25, 1999, attack on Zara, a stagehand at the Ventura Theater. Ramiro Salgado, 21, has also been charged with murder in the beating, but will be tried separately.

Prosecutors allege all five defendants are either gang members or gang associates who were furious at Zara and his neighbors, believing they had "ratted" on them to police.

In response, the group, allegedly led by Rosana Olvera, stormed Zara's complex and attacked several neighbors, prosecutors said. Before the melee was over, Zara, who had armed himself with a bat, was stabbed, kicked, punched and pummeled with his own bat and a shovel. He died the next day from massive head trauma.

Stadler told the jury that the defendants were associates or members of the largest and oldest gang in Ventura. Claiming about 350 members, the gang purports to control much of west Ventura, especially those streets along Ventura Avenue, including East Warner, where Zara lived.

To earn status in the gang, Stadler said, members often do things such as start fights or commit crimes. And if the fight is in defense of the gang, that generates an extra degree of respect.

"You have to be a crazy dude," Stadler said. "The crazier they are, the more status they have."

Rosana Olvera's residence was a popular "gang hangout," Stadler said, even though she was not officially a member of the gang. But she had respect from the members because her son is a member, her daughter dates gang members and her nephew, Chris Gonzales, is a member, who was living at her house at the time of the attack.

Gonzales was also at the party and participated in the attack, but earned immunity from prosecutors by testifying against Olvera and the other defendants. He is now in a witness protection program.

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