Los Angeles Police Department detectives said Tuesday that they have cracked one of last year's most brazen murder cases, arresting a member of the notorious 18th Street gang for allegedly killing a 23-day-old baby and badly wounding a street vendor during a September shooting in a crowded shopping district near MacArthur Park.
Giovanni Macedo, 31, was extradited to California last month from another state and charged with murder and several other felonies. He had been apprehended in late October.
Five other gang members -- including Juan Pablo Murillo, who police say was in charge of the gang's extortion and drug dealing in the area -- have been arrested and charged with murder for allegedly helping to plan and carry out the shooting. Two other suspects are being sought in Mexico, said LAPD Det. David Holmes.
The shooting, Holmes said, was retaliation against Francisco Clemente, 37, who had been refusing to pay the weekly "rent" that the 18th Street gang has extorted for years from vendors who scrape out a living selling clothes, electronics and other goods along the sidewalks near 6th Street and Burlington Avenue.
Several hours before the shooting, a collector for the gang made a final attempt to shake down Clemente for the roughly $50 vendors are charged each week, police said. As he had for weeks, Clemente refused. With hundreds of shoppers milling about, Macedo -- along with others charged in the murder -- strode up to the vendor around 9:30 p.m. Sept. 15 and opened fire at close range, according to detectives.
Clemente was struck several times in the chest and is recovering from the wounds. The infant, Luis Angel Garcia, was killed by a single bullet as he lay in his stroller near Clemente, Holmes said.
Contrary to previous news reports that the mother was passing by when her infant was struck by a stray bullet, Holmes and Det. Juan Guerra said the woman, whom they did not name, is a vendor who shared sidewalk space with Clemente. The detectives declined to say whether turning the gun on the infant was part of the gang's plan, but said the child was in plain view.
"There wasn't a blanket or anything covering the stroller, and it was right next to" Clemente, Holmes said. "Usually babies are in baby carriages."
His death deeply shook residents and vendors in the poor, immigrant neighborhood who typically remain silent in the face of assaults, intimidation and drug dealing by the local clique of 18th Street, a violent gang born in Los Angeles but that has spread over the years into other U.S. cities, Mexico and Central America.
But in the days after Luis Garcia's killing, police received tips from witnesses and other vendors who had been victims of the gang's extortion ring, leading to the arrests.
"It took the death of this baby to start people coming forward," Holmes said.
Amid intense media scrutiny and calls for arrests by city officials, LAPD commanders unleashed huge resources on the case, at one point assigning two dozen homicide detectives and gang specialists.
Preliminary court hearings for Macedo and the others are expected in coming weeks. Police said they expect more arrests related to the killing.
Holmes and Guerra asked anyone with information about the killing, the gang's extortion ring or its drug dealing to call (213) 485-2531, or after hours at (213) 485-3261. A witness protection program is available, they said.