By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Wednesday, Frances’ mood is on an upswing again as she attends a large Cinco de Mayo assembly at Hollenbeck Middle School where several music and dance groups will perform, Estephanie’s drill team prominently among them. Frances snaps lots of photos as a dozen identically dressed girls kick, spin and shimmy across the stage. “I try to take pictures of the kids whenever I can,” Frances says. “I think it’s important. See, I don’t have any pictures from my childhood. Just this one little school picture of me that my uncle gave me after my mom died. But that’s it. That’s why I’m making sure it’s different for my kids. I want them to know they have a history.”
At 9:16 a.m. on May 13, Luis finally has his preliminary hearing. The single witness against him is Officer Chavez. Chavez is a compact, handsome man, with a ’40s film-star profile and a mouth that lists downward at the corners in repose. He describes observing as three drug buys took place at the back door of the Aguilar household between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on January 21. The first two buys are attributed to Lil’ Happy, the last to Luis. Officer Chavez describes seeing the third buyer climb the back steps, knock on the door, Luis opening the door, the man giving him money, Luis handing the man a packet, the man being arrested down the street, and the packet later being confirmed to be rock cocaine.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Patricia Titus rules that Luis will be bound over for trial for the charge of sales and for possession of nine bullets. The two additional charges — possession and persuading a minor to sell — are dropped, since the prosecutor presents no evidence for either.
Luis is encouraged by the outcome, but Bisnow is pessimistic to the point of hostility. “I know Frances thinks Luis is innocent and this is all a big conspiracy,” he says, “but I don’t think she understands — courts of law require real evidence. And I haven’t seen any.” Frankly, he adds, he doesn’t have “unlimited energy” for this case.
At this, Frances loses it. “You know, Bisnow,” she says, “it’s my ass that’s been hauling around everywhere trying to investigate this case, not yours. It seems to me, you haven’t done shit for my husband except to tell me all the ways you think he’s guilty.”
Over the next few days, Luis and Frances discuss whether there is any possible way Luis can get a different lawyer appointed. Then, on Tuesday, May 18, just as the Homeboy office is about to close, a once-notorious East L.A. Dukes homeboy named Victor Mojica comes in the front door. He is holding the hand of a 2-year-old boy whose small, serious face is as pale as the moon. Victor’s twin brother, Gus Mojica — once equally notorious — is a gentle man who has worked in the Homeboy office for six years, while Victor is drug-addicted and now pretty much lives on the street. The toddler is Victor’s son.
Victor tells Father Greg that he needs help in turning the little boy over to the Department of Children and Family Services — foster care. The boy’s mother is in jail, and both sets of grandparents have declined to take the kid in. “So I have no one,” Victor says, his voice laced with shame. “And I can’t take care of him the way I live, you know?” Greg agrees to make the call. “But once you do this, understand there’s no turning back,” he says. Greg has just picked up the receiver when Frances swoops frantically into the room.
“I’ll take him,” she says.
“Oh, no.” Father Greg shakes his head emphatically. “No. Kiddo, you’ve already got much too much on your plate.” But now Frances is sobbing, “You can’t do this. You can’t let him go into the system! I’ll take him, G., please! He deserves better.” As the debate continues, it spills out that Frances was once briefly in foster care herself. “You don’t know how terrible it feels,” she says. “My sister and brother were in the system for years. Years. They were never the same. My sister was molested. It ruined both of their lives.”
After a few more attempts to argue her out of it, finally the priest relents. Victor Mojica puts his face in his hands, his eyes streaming. “Thank you,” he whispers to Frances. “Thank you.”
Frances breaks the news to Luis two days later when he calls collect. “If that’s what you want, babe,” Luis assures his wife, “it’s okay with me. Really, it’s okay.”