By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Yet, according to Senior Lead Officer John Pedroza, the case is far from a cop conspiracy. Pedroza is the compassionate cop who brought the Christmas presents for Frances and Luis’ kids, and now seems genuinely sympathetic to Frances’ dilemma. “I know that’s what she wants to believe,” he says. “Frances seems to be a nice woman who’s trying to raise her kids right. But there is so much evidence here. Believe me, this case has been built very carefully.”
Sergeant Milton Hernandez, Chavez’s direct boss, also disputes the idea that the accusations against Luis are anything but genuine. “You’ve got to understand that there are a lot of community people who are scared to death of that house because they see gang members in and out of there,” he says. “And they love Officer Chavez because he’s doing something about it.”
Chavez himself declined to comment.
Frances is trying, for the baby’s sake, to force herself to eat regularly, even when the thought of food seems impossible. “I lost 5 pounds when Elijah was in the hospital with pneumonia,” she says. “And my doctor told me if I lost any more weight she’d put me in the hospital.”
She is also trying not to let her emotions run away with her — a strategy that works better on certain days than others. Early in the week of February 9, she gets a call from Jim Bisnow, Luis’ attorney, who tells her that 15 or 20 years ago, this would be a nothing case; Luis would have served a few years, at most. But now, if Luis is convicted of all charges, although they add up to little more than low-level dealing, he’s looking at a sentence of 44 years — 14 years for the bullets alone. At this news, Frances starts to laugh, and Bisnow is confused by her reaction. “This is not a joke,” he says sternly.
“I had to laugh,” Frances says later, “because I’m afraid if I start crying, I won’t stop.”
At first, when there was still hope the charges against Luis would be dismissed, Frances told his boss that he had gone out of town on a family emergency. After a week, she confesses the real story. Yet, the company likes him and says they’ll find him work on another crew when he gets out. “He was one of the top candidates I interviewed,” says Cheryl Mitchell, one of the supervisors who originally hired Luis. “And he’s been excellent on the job. We have nothing but good things to say about this man.”
When Frances isn’t worrying about Luis, or the kids, she worries about money. With her salary, plus the little money she and Luis have saved, plus her tax refund, she figures she can last till June, maybe longer, but only if she’s careful, and only if she eventually applies for food stamps. “But I don’t want to apply for food stamps. I don’t want to so much,” she says.
Frances’ other obsessive worry is her unborn daughter. Late on the evening of February 12, this particular fear hits critical mass when she no longer can feel the baby moving. Knowing certain periods of inactivity are normal, she goes to bed and tries to sleep. When by 3 a.m. there’s still no movement, Frances gets up and drinks some juice, hoping the sugar will stimulate the baby. Still nothing. By 5 a.m., she is terrified that the baby has died, and drives herself to the emergency room at White Memorial Hospital. There, doctors rush her in for tests — all of which reveal that Genesis is fine. “She was sleeping, poor thing,” says Frances. “They gave her a little zap and she woke up. But sometimes I just get so scared,” she says.
Frances’ ex-mother-in-law, Maria, the mother of her old boyfriend, George (thus grandmother to the three oldest children), has offered to stay at the house for a month or so to help with the kids — an offer that Frances accepts as a godsend. After she returns from the hospital around 8 a.m. on Friday, February 13, Maria cooks breakfast while Frances showers and gets dressed in preparation to take the kids to day care, then go on to work. Suddenly, at 8:30, there is a loud pounding at the front door and a man’s voice shouts, “Open up! Police!”
Frances assumes this is some kind of cruel joke. But when she opens the door, sure enough, there are nine officers, five in uniform, four in blue windbreakers labeled PAROLE in big letters, all with their service revolvers drawn. “We’re looking for Luis Aguilar,” an officer tells her.
Frances is simply flabbergasted. “He’s locked up!” she says, as the officers rush past her and into the house. “You guys arrested him on January 23!” A cop tells her to move out of the way, then the rest stalk from room to room, looking under beds and in cupboards, stiff-armed, guns extended. All the while, the children stare at them with a combination of world-weariness and horror.
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