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Longing for a Reprieve

Photos by Anne Fishbein

After six months behind bars, Luis Aguilar is desperate to bail himself out. “Frances and the kids need me,” he says. He needs them too, of course. The combined touchstones of wife, kids and job have a distinctly beneficial effect on his psyche. Without them, his sense of himself as a decent man for whom a happy, productive future is possible slips away. “In here, you start to see yourself as a criminal, even if you’re not,” he says.

This undertow of pessimism sometimes reflects itself in nightmares. “Like in one dream,” Luis says, “I’d be standing in front of my house, and all of a sudden I’m shot.” In another, he is trapped in an open coffin. Luis tries to keep the dreams and the dread at bay by working out obsessively — doing push-ups, sit-ups and crunches to the point of exhaustion. He fills the rest of the long unoccupied hours by reading the Bible or any nonfiction books that happen to drift his direction, and by poring incessantly over copies of his court transcripts and the police documents pertaining to his case, searching for any shred of inconsistency that might help prove his innocence.

Luis’ attorney, Mark Overland, thinks Luis ought to wait about the bail. The trial will probably begin near the end of August, says Overland, so why waste the money? But Luis wants to bail out now precisely because his trial may be imminent. “If things don’t go my way, at least me and Frances and the kids will have some time together,” he says. “At least we’ll have something.”

This is part of a yearlong series focusing on the Aguilar family — Luis, Frances and their children — of East Los Angeles. In Chapter 4, money got so tight Frances had to borrow from friends, the children faced problems at school, and Luis grew impatient with lack of progress on his drug case.

Right now, Luis’ bail is $125,000. A bail bondsman will require 10 percent, or $12,500 — too much for him to realistically expect to beg or borrow. At Luis’ request, Overland has scheduled a hearing to ask for a lower bail of $10,000. “I don’t anticipate I’ll get it,” he says. But he is optimistic the judge will settle for something in between — say, $50,000, bringing the bond fee more within range.

Judge Anita Dymant, a congenial-looking jurist who could easily be mistaken for a fifth-grade teacher, listens impassively as Overland makes his pitch. “This man has six children and a wife who need his support,” he says. “He’s a homeowner and — I don’t usually say this kind of thing — but I believe this is a case where a conviction is very unlikely. We have character evidence with regard to Officer Chavez’s untruthfulness. In other words,” concludes Overland, “this case will go to trial. And there is no likelihood whatsoever that Mr. Aguilar will not appear. None. This is a man who wants to clear his name.”

Overland has asked Cheryl Mitchell, Luis’ employment supervisor, to come to court too. When the judge invites her to step forward, she speaks with a maternal ferocity. “This gentleman was working 10-and-a-half-hour days on a $250 million sewer project up until the time of his arrest,” she says. “We consider him a high-priority worker with our program. He is guaranteed a job with us the minute he gets out. Guaranteed.”

The prosecutor, Lew Parise, is a 30-something guy with dapper hair and a low-key, reasonably affable demeanor. Parise objects vigorously to any drop in bail — although, strictly on the face of it, Luis’ present charges are neither violent nor serious, the main charge involving the alleged sale of $10 worth of rock cocaine on a single occasion. Nevertheless, Parise trots out a laundry list of past negatives — gang member, violent felon, parole violator, plus an instance 10 years ago when Luis was briefly arrested, then later released. In the end, Judge Dymant pretty much goes with Parise. She will drop the bail to $100,000, but no lower, considering the defendant’s record, she says. This means Luis now needs to come up with $10,000, an amount that still seems all but impossible, especially since, even if he is acquitted, the fee is entirely non-refundable.

As everyone files out of the courtroom after the judge’s decision, Overland shakes his head with frustration, while Frances is stoic. Luis’ mother, Maria — who walks with a cane due to childhood polio and, like Frances, has attended every court date — now limps quickly down the hallway, away from the others, crying quietly.

 

 

Although the bail verdict is a disappointment, it is a moot point as long as Luis still has a parole hold. Legally, the hold should have been lifted on July 2, the date that his four-year parole officially ended. But every day, when Frances logs on to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Web site, she finds the hold still in place. Hoping to break the logjam, she calls Luis’ parole officer a half-dozen times over the next two weeks, each time leaving the same polite message, but no one ever returns her calls. Even job supervisor Mitchell has tried calling the P.O. without success.

Meanwhile, despite the high bail, Luis is hatching a new plan to spring himself. It seems that a friend of a friend owns a local bond company called Ed Bails. Luis hopes to talk Eddie Gonzales, the owner, into putting up the bail money for an 8 percent fee — or $8,000 — rather than the conventional 10 percent. If the bondsman goes for it, Luis believes he can cobble together $5,000 in loans from various family members. The remaining $3,000 he could pay over time — presuming that Gonzales will agree to an installment plan. Yet, even if all three puzzle pieces fall into place, the plot is a risky one, since, if the worst happens and Luis loses his case, Frances will be left to shoulder the $8,000 burden alone — on top of everything else.

Frances and Luis fight about the bail issue. Luis feels let down by her reticence. Frances feels he doesn’t genuinely comprehend how hard she has to fight every day to keep herself and the kids on some kind of even emotional and financial keel.



Home again: Luis and Frances


Right now, 12-year-old Bola appears to be on the mend, at least on the surface level, from the shock of Magoo’s death. (Miguel Gomez, a.k.a. Magoo, was shot to death on June 24 while he removed graffiti for Homeboy Industries, under a contract with the L.A. Board of Public Works.) But as the new school year approaches, the issue of finding him a tutor becomes crucial. Frances talks to an elementary school teacher named John Bohm who sometimes volunteers at the Homeboy offices. Bohm agrees to tutor Bola every day at 2 p.m. for the rest of the summer. At first, Bola drags his feet — dog-at-the-vet style — at the idea of daily schoolwork, but when Frances won’t back down, he slowly settles into the routine.

The next trouble spot is Julian, the 9-year-old. Smart, computer-savvy Julian is usually the family’s sunny-natured, low-maintenance kid. But when Frances goes to pick up the four youngest children at day care — Julian included — the facility’s director pulls her off to the side and tells her Julian was crying during nap time. “I don’t know how to tell my mom,” he reportedly said to the teacher, “but some kids are hitting me all the time.” At home, the rest of the story tumbles out. Two older kids who live in the neighborhood regularly hold Julian while another, younger child slugs him. Frances talks to the kids’ parents, but comes away unconvinced that the problem has been solved. “More and more, I just keep my kids inside the house,” she says. “But that’s not a good way to live.”

And, as always, there’s the issue of money. Father Greg lent Frances $1,100 to cover her mortgage for another month, but it’s only a stopgap measure. “I have to find a way to earn more,” she says for at least the thousandth time. Matters look momentarily brighter when Frances gets a job offer from a former Homeboy staff member who has recently gone to work for Para los Niños. He says he wants Frances to work as his executive assistant, at a salary that’s significantly more than she is making now. After getting Father Greg’s blessing, Frances decides to go for it. Then, belatedly, the Para los Niños management declares the organization won’t hire anyone without a high school diploma — which Frances doesn’t have.

“So much for that,” she says gloomily.

 

As Luis’ trial date moves closer, Mark Overland works hard to ready the case. He intends to base the defense primarily on the contention that Officer Rudy Chavez lied about seeing Luis sell drugs on the afternoon of January 21, the day that Luis came home early from work on account of illness. Persuading a jury to believe the word of a former gang member/convicted felon over that of a police officer is an extremely daunting undertaking. To do so, Overland needs to show that Chavez had a motive and suggest that he has lied on other occasions as well.

 

In the preliminary hearing, Chavez admitted to knowledge of Frances’ complaints against him, which Overland thinks will provide a nominal motive. In addition, there was the night in May 2003, a month after Luis was released from prison, when Chavez stopped Luis as he was driving home from work and allegedly made a threat. According to Luis (and his younger brother, who was also in the car at the time), Chavez told him that if he didn’t get Frances to drop her complaints, he, Chavez, would see to it that Luis was locked up for a long time — or words to that effect. Luis told Frances about the encounter and halfheartedly attempted to talk her into dropping the complaints. “Hell, no!” she replied furiously. Instead, she marched down to Hollenbeck police station to file yet another complaint against Officer Chavez, this time for threatening her husband. (Luis first told the Weekly about the incident at the beginning of June 2003, two weeks after it allegedly occurred.) Overland intends to suggest that Chavez lied about Luis’ selling drugs to make good on the threat.

Although there are allegations that Chavez has lied in the past, proving it is a difficult proposition. In the documents used to get Luis’ arrest warrant, Chavez wrote that two of the men who allegedly bought drugs from Lil’ Happy stated in the course of police interviews that they’d also bought drugs from Luis several times. Later, both of those men (identified in previous “American Family” chapters as Gus de la Rosa and Juan Garcia) stated unequivocally that they’d never bought drugs from Luis, nor did they ever tell Chavez they’d bought drugs from Luis — and that they are willing to come to court and say as much to a jury. But drug addicts make notoriously unimpressive witnesses, so Overland isn’t sure they’d be of any real help.

There is, however, a third man listed in the arrest warrant whom Frances tracked down a few weeks ago. We’ll call him Carlos Cardoza. Cardoza was arrested by Chavez for buying rock cocaine from Lil’ Happy. Unlike the other men, Cardoza actually wrote out and signed a statement in which he said he’d also bought drugs “over the past four months” from Luis.

Cardoza, 30, lives in a tiny one-room apartment and admits to being a drug addict. He is well-spoken, and looks more graduate student than base head. Cardoza says he bought drugs three times or so from someone on the Aguilars’ property: once from the back door of the Aguilars’ house, twice more from the parking lot. Each time the seller was someone whom Cardoza describes as a teenager. “I don’t know the exact age,” he says. “But I never saw anybody over 20 years old. That’s what I told the cop, that the only people I ever bought from were kids, nobody else.” When asked why he wrote that he bought from Luis, Cardoza says he didn’t know any of the sellers’ names, that he just wrote the names the officer told him to write. “The cop kept telling me, ‘We have you on film buying from this Luis guy,’” says Cardoza. “I said, ‘Okay, if you say so.’ They kept telling me things would go easier with me if I said what was going on in the house with this Luis guy. I said, ‘Look. I bought what I bought from kids. That’s it. I never saw nobody else.’ And they kept saying they had me on film. So I figured they knew the names. So I wrote what the cop told me.” The interviewing cop listed on Cardoza’s statement is Rudy Chavez.

Overland thinks Cardoza might make an okay witness for the defense. He also wants to find out if anyone has accused Chavez of lying or falsifying evidence in cases unrelated to Luis’. In response to Overland’s Pitchess motion, seeking details of any alleged misconduct noted in the officer’s personnel file, Judge Dymant turned over the names of five people (other than Frances) who have filed complaints against Officer Chavez pertaining to honesty or veracity. Yet, because the judge cannot legally reveal the content of the complaints, this means that each complainant must be individually tracked down and interviewed. In that a couple of years have passed since the most of the complaints were made, all but one of the people have moved, none leaving a forwarding address.

Another piece of research on Overland’s agenda is to have someone videotape the view from Chavez’s surveillance location to see if it was even physically possible for the officer to have seen what he claims he saw on the day in question. This particular task is made a tad more difficult by the fact that the prosecutor has thus far refused to disclose the surveillance location. Through a process of elimination, Luis feels fairly certain he’s figured out the spot, in a neighbor’s yard, that the cops used. To be sure, neighbors must be interviewed, measurements must be taken, and the video must be made.

 

“In other words, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” says Overland.

How exactly that work is to get done is another problem. In the American criminal-justice system, the resources accorded to non-affluent defendants are not equal to those available to prosecutors. For instance, prosecutors can make liberal use of police officers and detectives to accomplish whatever investigative work they deem necessary. But the defense attorney must petition the judge for a small stipend — in Overland’s case, $1,400 — to hire someone from the court’s pool of investigators, which usually means a retired cop supplementing his pension. “And most of these guys are not exactly what you’d call ‘defendant-friendly,’” Overland says.

 

Frances’ moods continue to undulate between wrung-out despair and a calm, cheerful, can-do kind of optimism. She works energetically to build a life that will thrive, with or without Luis. Recently, for example, she decided she needs to get into better physical condition, so she’s started taking nightly aerobic walks. For company, she has recruited a friend, another single mother, named Beatrice Salazar. “I like Beatrice because she’s really smart and tries to better herself,” says Frances. “She’s working at 7-Seas restaurant right now, but soon she’s going back to school to become a registered nurse.”

Each night after dinner, the two women walk at a rapid clip three times around the 1.5-mile cement loop that encircles Evergreen Cemetery, a circular sidewalk that local residents have taken over as a makeshift jogging track. (A few years ago, the City Council talked about turning the loop into a real collegiate-level soft track, but somehow the funds never came through.) After a few weeks of walking, Frances and Beatrice graduate to light jogging. “It’s a total stress reliever,” says Frances.

Frances has also been talking about forming a support group for girls that would meet at Homeboy Industries. “The guys are always the ones who get all the attention,” she says. “But young women need help as much as the guys do. Girls around here grow up thinking certain things are normal — that aren’t normal. You get pregnant as a teenager, you think, ‘Oh, that’s normal.’ Your man beats you? ‘Hey, it’s normal.’ Meanwhile, it’s the girls who take care of all the kids while their man’s out in the street waiting to get shot, or locked up.” Frances pauses. “Well, none of that is normal. I want to help girls change that thinking. And I think I’d be good at it.”

Frances already has a name for the program, Platicas — Spanish for “chats.” She and two other female staff members have even met a couple of times to brainstorm. One staffer, Sara Weiss, is studying to become a licensed marriage-and-family therapist. “So, when Sara gets her license, we could apply for some grants,” says Frances. Although she talks about the benefit for other, younger women, it’s apparent that Frances would also welcome the support such a program might bring.

In late July, Frances and Sara decide it’s time to convert talk into action. A month before, at the Homeboy benefit, a woman who sat at Frances’ table said she has a sister who owns a small cosmetics line. The sister might be willing to do some free beauty make-overs if Frances thought girls would be interested. Frances and Sara decide that talk, combined with a field trip, would be a great way to kick off the Platicas idea. “And make-overs would raise everybody’s spirits,” says Frances.

The outing is scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. By 1 p.m., Frances, Sara and six other young women are camped out at picnic tables and benches along the boardwalk just south of the Santa Monica Pier. Norma Reyes, the owner of RAW Cosmetics, works on each of them in turn, while her photographer friend shoots before-and-after photos.

A 24-year-old homegirl named Lupe Garnica is the person whom the other girls most want to see made over. Lupe is a small, muscular-looking young woman with a painful past, and a style of dressing that might be described as “chola butch.” Her hair, shaved nearly to cue-ball status, is usually obscured by a knit beanie. Lupe has never worn makeup in her life. But, in response to Frances’ urging, she decides to come anyway.

 

As it turns out, underneath the macha façade, Lupe is fine-boned and very pretty, with a face that becomes animated in front of a camera. Yet, while she gamely puts up with the application of eye shadow, blush and lipstick, once her photo is taken, she goes into the nearest public bathroom and scrubs off every trace of color. “But, hey, I did it,” she says. “You gotta try new things, right?”

Later, everyone goes for ice cream sundaes on the pier, then straggles back to Frances’ van at the end of the day, tired and happy. “I think we all really bonded,” says Frances. “It was a beginning.”

But, as luck would have it, on her way out of the beach parking lot, a new-looking white Jaguar slams on its brakes in front of her, and Frances plows into the Jag’s back fender. Her van is fine, but the Jag is dented, and Frances has no insurance.

Trying to hold on to the mood of the day, Frances promises the Jaguar driver she will take care of everything, and tells herself that she’ll somehow find a way to work things out. But by Monday morning, this newest brick of pressure tips some precarious balance inside her, and Frances starts to fall apart in earnest. She has a blowup with Luis, an even larger blowup with a staff member at work — and then, at the end of the day picks a sobbing, screaming fight with Father Greg about her status — or perceived lack thereof — at the office that puts her completely over the edge. Once the priest is gone, the meltdown continues. “When I was doing wrong in my life, at least I could pay my bills,” she sobs. “Now that I’m trying to do everything right, it seems like everything just gets worse and worse.”

Boyle has left town, but he calls Frances a day or two later with a proposition. What if she took over Homeboy Merchandising? Homeboy Industries has a bunch of products — T-shirts, mugs, hats and the like, but the stuff mostly languishes in the storeroom. If Frances is willing, she can choose an assistant from the staff and start taking the line to retail stores. This also means Greg can bump her salary a little.

Thrilled, Frances grabs the offer right away.

 

On July 29, Frances starts calling Luis’ P.O. again. She tries several numbers and finally reaches a parole officer named Tucker who, after checking his computer, reports that, yes, Luis did discharge on the 2nd of July. “And, according to the law, your husband’s hold has to be lifted three working days after his parole is completed,” Tucker says pleasantly. Frances is confused. This means the hold should have
38 gone off no later than Wednesday, July 7 — 22 days ago. “Well, unfortunately, it looks like your husband’s P.O. went on vacation,” Tucker explains. But she shouldn’t worry, he says, he’ll go into the system and make the change immediately. “The hold will be gone by no later than Saturday, July 31, I guarantee it.”

The hold is not lifted on Saturday. Nor is it lifted on Sunday. Or Monday, when Frances is so busy with the transition to her new product business that she decides she will give Tucker one more week before she calls again.

The new job has sent her frame of mind into a visible upswing and, at midweek, Frances is feeling so lighthearted that she decides to play matchmaker with her jogging partner, Beatrice. She introduces her to a guy from the graffiti-removal crew named Art Casas, whom Frances has decided is particularly nice. The two go out on Friday night, and both report that they have really hit it off. On Saturday night, the newly minted couple persuades yenta Frances to go with them to a comedy show at the Ice House in Pasadena. “And we had the best time,” says Frances. “The best time!”

On Monday, Frances calls the parole office again. This time, she reaches yet another P.O., who again promises that all will be put right in a matter of hours. “We don’t want any civil suits!” the P.O. says in a joking tone, but Frances doesn’t laugh.

By Tuesday morning, the parole hold has been lifted, but there is still the “NO BAIL” designation next to Luis’ name. “I can’t believe it!” fumes Frances. But it’s nearly noon, and she is late to meet Beatrice for a quick lunch. In the parking lot behind the office, she spots Art and asks him if he wants to come too. He declines, saying he has to return to a graffiti-cleanup site. “Tell my girl I’ll call her later,” he says.

 

At lunch, Frances and Beatrice whisper and giggle like schoolgirls. Art might be the real thing, Beatrice says. “These two days with him have been better than the whole four years with my baby’s father.”

At 12:50, lunch is finished, and Frances is driving down First Street in the direction of the office when she spots the yellow police tape from a half-block away. “It’s one of us,” she thinks. She parks the van and runs toward the crowd of staff members who mill in a dazed cluster outside on the sidewalk. “What happened?” she asks. Lisa Parra, a young woman who assists with the tattoo-removal program, answers distractedly, “Somebody shot Art.”

“Is he all right?”

Another staffer, Lu-Lu Rivera, shakes his head. “He was breathing at first. But he’s dead.” By now, Beatrice has reached the group and hears this last. “NO, NO, NO!” she screams. “NO! NO!”

Frances begins to shake uncontrollably.

The shooting itself is stunning in its brutal recklessness. At 12 noon, the white truck with the blue Homeboy Graffiti Removal logo drives east on First Street, with Art as its sole occupant. He stops at a red light at the intersection of First and Cummings, a half-block from Hollenbeck police station. A car carrying two gang members pulls up, and the passenger-side occupant lights up the truck with eight rapid shots. Only one bullet connects, but it’s enough.

Reflexively, Frances calls home and blurts the news to Estephanie, who in turn tells Bola. “Not again” is all he says. Then he goes into the bedroom, shuts the door, and does not come out for the rest of the day. What Frances does not say, what she cannot even think, is that Bola could easily have been in that truck with Art. A month ago, Bola and his 14-year-old cousin, Anthony, started going out with the graffiti crews again, most often with Art and his work partner, Richard Munoz. But, after Bola’s tutoring began, Frances pulled him off graffiti cleanup, telling him he could go back once he got his schoolwork a little more under control.

“I don’t know how people like Art’s mother ever get through it,” Frances says. “I would die. I mean that, really. My heart would die.”



Make-over: Erin Echevarria,
Gloria Munoz and Lupe Garnica
take their picture with Gloria’s
cell phone at Platicas day
at the beach.



 

Over the next week, events unfurl with a rhythm similar to that which followed Magoo’s death. The news crews camp out at the Homeboy office for a day or two. The staff organizes the fund-raising car wash. The wake is on Monday, August 9; the burial, the next morning. The main difference is that, after this shooting, Father Greg announces he is shutting down the entire Homeboy Graffiti Removal business, although city officials plead with him not to.

“He did the right thing,” says Frances. “Nobody here can take another death. And there would be another death. We all know it.”

As the days pass, Frances copes by taking care of others. She fusses over Bola, who mostly pushes her away, and over Beatrice, who begins camping out with her two kids at the Aguilar house. Frances’ own grief shows itself primarily as fatigue. On Monday, August 9, Luis goes to court again, and for the first time, Frances doesn’t show up. “I meant to,” she says. “But I’m just so, so exhausted.”

On Wednesday night, August 11, Frances and Beatrice talk long and hard about their future. Art’s death has driven Beatrice to decide on a radical course of action. She and her boys are moving to Indianapolis, where she has some relatives. “I just want to start over fresh,” she says.

“Maybe that’s what Luis and me and the kids should do,” Frances muses. “Move that far away. Where we can start over for real.”

By midnight, Frances is sleeping the sleep of the dead. Estephanie has abandoned her own bedroom and is flopped down beside her mother. Gennisis is not in her crib, but is also curled up next to Frances, along with Elijah. Elijah and Mando, the foster child, originally fell asleep on the living-room couch. But sometime during the night, 2-year-old Elijah wandered into the master bedroom, making it a foursome now loosely intertwined on the bed.

This is exactly how the intruder finds them when he creeps into the Aguilar house at 2 a.m., August 12, and gingerly leans down to kiss his wife, who is so groggy she thinks she is dreaming. Estephanie is the first to come fully awake. “Mom!” she says. “Luis is here! Luis is here!”

 

Luis has done the impossible. He has bailed himself out — risk and debt be damned. “I bailed out last night after dinner,” he says. “But I guess they didn’t finish the paperwork till like 1 in the morning.” Looking ghostly due to jailhouse pallor, Luis kisses Frances again, then reaches for his baby daughter.

Luis has seen Gennisis several times through the jail’s protective glass barrier. But he has never touched the baby. When he picks her up now, at first he simply stares at the tiny, plump, curly-haired girl. “I’m your daddy,” he says, then begins to cry.

Eventually, Luis gathers himself enough to find the rest of the kids. Bola, Frankie and Julian have not heard the commotion and are still asleep in a back bedroom. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” trills Frankie, hopping and twirling when he sees Luis. Julian and Frankie collect their own hugs, their expressions a dappled mixture of caution and exhilaration. Even Estephanie dumps her habitual teenage ennui for obvious delight. Only Bola is reserved, a smile flickering at his mouth, then leaving again.

Finally, when everyone has been properly greeted, Luis notices the other 2-year-old sitting alone on the living-room couch, his gaze wide-eyed and unsure. “Is that him?” Luis asks, tipping his head in Mando’s direction. Frances nods, yes. Luis walks back to the living room to squat beside the little boy. “Hey, Mando,” says Luis. “I’m Dad.”

Mando smiles shyly. “Hi, Dad,” he says.

In the morning, Thursday, Frances calls in sick to work, then drives Luis 40 miles east to Ontario Mills, the biggest shopping mall within plausible driving distance. “When you’re in jail, you get really institutionalized because you’re not used to being around regular people, and it makes you really paranoid.” Hence the shopping mall. “It was Luis’ anti-institutional therapy.”

Early Friday morning, Luis goes to his old job site and talks to his boss, who promptly offers him work. “I really want to start work right now,” Luis says, “but my trial might start in a week . . .” The job foreman agrees that Luis should wait. In the meantime, Luis figures he could find a night job, and goes to fill out an application at UPS for the 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.

When not searching for work, Luis engages in a cheerful orgy of homeowner/father activity. He fixes a leaky bathroom sink. He replaces a broken toilet. He completely cleans the front yard. On Saturday, he drives all the kids to the beach. And whenever he gets in the shower, he calls to the three littlest boys, Frankie, Elijah and foster kid Mando, who race to pile in with him. Most of all, Luis loves holding the baby, whom he tends to tuck under one arm, marsupial-like, as he walks around the house or yard. “He spoils her!” wails Frances. “She used to be okay in her high chair by herself. But now she hears Luis’ voice and she cries until he picks her up.” Frances tells the story as if it’s complaint. But it’s really not. Since Luis’ return, Frances’ body language has relaxed markedly, and whatever quarrels she had with her husband have, at least for the moment, blown away like sand.

A few days after Luis’ arrival, Mando’s mother is released from jail and shows up at the Homeboy office to ask if she can see her son. She stays less than an hour and seems to have no intention of reclaiming the boy. “I need to, you know, get adjusted and everything,” she says vaguely to Luis. “She wants to party,” Luis tells Frances later. “I can see it on her.”

Interestingly, although Luis had supported Frances’ decision in taking Mando, privately he was sure the child put too much pressure on an already ridiculously burdened household. But since his return, he’s done a 180. “I think it’d be better if Mando stayed with us,” he tells Frances now. “I think he’s happy here.” Yet when Frances tries to talk to the woman about signing a temporary custody agreement, she dances away from the subject, then stops returning Frances’ calls.

Luis continues to revel in home and family life, but he can’t shake the fear that it will soon be yanked away after the trial. “I’m still the guy on the horse with a hanging rope around my neck,” he says. “And I keep wondering when the horse is going to run.”

 

Then, on August 25, the situation changes again when Luis goes back to court one more time. Although there is still investigation to be done, Overland tells the judge he is ready to go to trial. This is, to some degree, a strategy, because Overland has just learned the prosecution is not ready: Officer Chavez is reportedly on vacation and will be away for a month. Under the law requiring a speedy trial, this means that if Luis and Overland don’t agree to yet another continuance, the prosecution must dismiss the case. The dismissal is only a formality. As soon as Chavez returns in September, the prosecutor will likely refile. “And everything starts all over again from the beginning,” Overland explains to Luis.

 

Outside the courtroom, Lou Parise tries to talk Overland into going for the continuance, but Overland declines.

And so, at just after 11:30 a.m., Judge Anita Dymant dismisses Luis’ case “in its entirety.”

Despite the fact that it’s probably no more than a temporary reprieve, Luis and Frances are nearly giddy at the words. “So, I can go back to work now?” Luis asks Overland, as the elevator takes everyone to the ground floor.

“Most definitely,” replies the attorney. “Go back to work. Earn some money. Spend time with your family. Live. We’ll start this all over again in October.”

Husband and wife each thank Overland for what must be the zillionth time. Then, looking perceptibly freer, Luis and Frances Aguilar walk out of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Building into the brilliant Southern California sunlight, hand in hand.

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