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Gang Member Gets 25 to Life in Slaying, Despite Late Testimony

Oxnard man breaks his silence during his sentencing hearing, but the judge is not swayed.

November 08, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard gang member Julio Cesar Chavez testified Friday that he kept silent during his recent murder trial to avoid answering questions about who participated in the fatal beating and stabbing of a man during a back-alley fight two years ago.

Chavez broke his silence at his sentencing hearing and denied any role in the slaying for which he was convicted two months ago. He suggested that unnamed gang associates acted in self-defense after being approached by rivals from an El Rio neighborhood.

But the last-minute testimony failed to persuade Ventura County Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III to grant Chavez a new trial.

After listening to four hours of testimony, the judge rejected the self-defense theory and told Chavez, 20, that he believed, based on evidence presented at trial, that the defendant and other gang members fatally assaulted Bryan Davalos with sticks, knives and a metal pipe.

Although Davalos was not in a gang, authorities believe he was targeted because he told the gang members who attacked him that he was from El Rio. The judge described the killing as a cowardly, one-sided attack -- not a fight stemming from an invasion by El Rio rivals.

"It is almost as if we heard two different trials," Curtis told Chavez's defense attorney, Richard Hanawalt. "What we had was a Colonia gang, four or five individuals including your client, in my opinion, brutally, viciously attacking one individual."

Curtis denied the motion for a new trial and ordered Chavez to serve 25 years to life in prison for second-degree murder and a related gang allegation.

By law, the murder conviction carries a mandatory penalty of 15 years to life, and the allegation that the killing was carried out at the direction of Chavez's gang is punishable by an additional 10 years.

At trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. John West presented evidence to show Chavez was one of at least four gang members who confronted Davalos, 20, in the alley and beat and stabbed him to death on April 9, 2001.

The evidence included testimony from a female witness who told jurors she heard Chavez laugh and admit to hitting someone with a pipe.

In court Friday, Chavez denied wielding a pipe or any weapon. He testified that he never entered the alley where the fight occurred and did not participate. Nevertheless, Chavez said he felt threatened at the time of the attack and believed based on his friends' statements that El Rio gang members were coming for him and his associates.

Chavez told the judge he stood at the mouth of the alley for five to seven seconds and observed "a bunch of people fighting each other." He testified he got scared and ran back to a nearby house where he and his friends had been drinking beer.

"I don't know who was out there," Chavez said in response to repeated questions by the prosecutor about who in the Oxnard gang joined in the fight.

Chavez stated that he didn't want to take the stand at trial because he feared retaliation from fellow gang members if compelled to identify who was at the party. He said he later concluded that he had been wrongly "swept up" in the murder investigation because of his gang association and needed to come clean.

One of the other gang members, Luis Venegas, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder and is serving a prison sentence of 15 years to life. The others are still being sought.

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