An Avenues gangster testified in court that an alleged cop killer said he “fucked up” when he heard the news that he fatally shot Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Juan Escalante in the early morning hours of August 2, 2008.
Greg Mondragon, 15, was one of a handful of Drew Street clique of Highland Park's Avenues, who testified in the two-day preliminary hearing that began May 24 in downtown Los Angeles. Jose “Snapper” Renteria, 18, and 28-year-old Arnoldo Pineda are charged with the capital murder of Escalante who was gunned down in front of his Cypress Park home in the 3400 block of Thorpe Avenue as he was preparing to go to work at the Men's Central Jail.
Also charged with his murder are Guillermo “Pee Wee” Hernandez and Carlos “Stoney” Velasquez. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for the fall. Another suspect, Armando “Chivo” Albarran is still at large.
Mondragon, who was in custody on a parole violation, told Superior Court judge William R. Pounders that on the morning of the shooting, alleged shooter Velasquez, who heard on the news that a deputy had been shot in Cypress Park, told Renteria: “I fucked up.” Los Angeles County prosecutors believe that Renteria provided Velasquez with the gun that killed the 27-year-old deputy.
Pineda, who sat quietly next to Renteria and his attorney, admitted he was the driver to police officers but claimed that Velasquez pulled a gun on him and forced him to drive him and his pals around Cypress Park on their hunt for rival gangsters.
Escalante was shot multiple times, including three shots to the head, with a .40-caliber Glock pistol. It remains unclear whether the shooting of Escalante, a former U.S. Army reservist, was a simple case of mistaken gang identity as Mondragon alleged.
Last year, federal prosecutors claimed in a 222-page federal indictment that Escalante was gunned down in an act of asymmetrical retribution, payback for the spectacular LAPD shootout on Drew Street in June 2008 that forced the closure of local streets, caused the evacuation of two nearby public schools — and left AK-47-wielding Drew Street gangster Danny “Clever” Leon bloodied and dead in the street.
Mondragon, who smiled regularly at Renteria during his testimony, said that after the Escalante shooting he was instructed by a Mexican Mafia member to find the Glock. He said he found the gun hidden in a shoe box in the back of Renteria's Drew Street home.
At one point during Mondragon's testimony, Renteria, whose hair was slicked back in a ponytail, mouthed “I love you.” Mondragon flashed a gang sign back at him.
Renteria was arrested April 16, 2009 at the Eastlake Juvenile Detention Center, where he was being held on a parole violation for a previous drug offense.
Renteria is also charged with the attempted murder of 23-year-old Luis Piche, a former Highland Park gang member. The most dramatic point of the hearing came when Piche took the stand and told the judge that he had been shot 14 times as he was walking down York Boulevard in Northeast Los Angeles in May of 2007.
When he was asked by the prosecutor if he recognized the shooter in the court room, he paused for close to a minute to glare at Renteria before he replied: “I am at a loss for words.”
When pushed by the prosecutor to identify the gunman who allegedly continued to shoot him with a SKS rifle 10 more times as he lay almost dead on the sidewalk, Piche replied: “I can't. Like I said it happened fast.”
When he was asked if he was angry because he sees the person who shot him, he replied: “Yes, I am. “
As he was being escorted out of the courtroom by a Los Angeles Police Department detective, Piche was breathing heavily and staring at the younger gangster who was told by a deputy to look away.
At the end of the hearing on Tuesday, Pounders said there was enough evidence for the men to stand trial for Escalante's murder.