In the past few weeks, a new element has been unfolding in the case of Alex Sanchez.
(For those unfamiliar with the basics of the case: Alex Sanchez is the El Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member who transformed his life to become a nationally respected gang intervention leader. This past June, Alex was arrested by the FBI as part of a federal racketeering indictment and accused of plotting the murder of another gang member among other charges. Previous posts on the matter may be found here and here and here and here.)
As you will remember, in three different hearings, Sanchez was denied release on any kind of bail, despite more than 100 letters of support from various prominent LA community members, plus $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property. His trial is not expected to begin until December 2010.
Now his lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, is trying one more time for bail by taking the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with what blogger/author Tom Diaz, describes as a “take-no-prisoners brief that (in nice, polite lawyer language) flames trial Judge Manuel L. Real.”
The government is expected to answer Bensinger’s brief with it’s own legal pile of papers as soon as this week.
Diaz, who leans strongly to the law enforcement view of things in the Sanchez case, has an excellent rundown of Bensinger’s brief. I urge you to read the whole of Diaz’s post. But here are a very few representative clips:
The brief scorches a few other targets, including the government’s trial lawyers and the principle MS-13 expert witness in the case, Los Angeles Police Department Gang Detective Frank Flores. Flores’s testimony about the meaning of wiretaps (Sanchez allegedly directing a “hit” on a renegade gang member) was key in the detention hearings. The defense claims that the government not only got one of the key phone call participants wrong, but Flores misconstrued what happened during the calls.
But Bensinger focuses his flamethrower on the 85-year old Judge Real, stating, “At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.”
If the judge did anything right, it escaped counsel’s notice.
Reading between the lines, Bensinger is conveying to the appeals court the message that â€” in his view â€” Real for whatever reason or reasons is confused or willfully obtuse about what the federal law requires in a bail (“detention”) hearing. In short, the brief argues that the trial judge just doesn’t “get it.”
The 32-page document landed in the appeals court docket less than a week after that court issued an opinion and order applying its own flame to Judge Real.
After that, Diaz pretty much lays out the whole brief, in interesting and accurate detail.
The core of Sanchez’s appeal is that he was denied a fair hearing on the only issues relevant to whether he should be released, which are (1) is he a risk of flight, and (2) does he present a threat to persons or a community? Instead, the brief claims, Judge Real essentially held a “mini-trial” on whether Sanchez is guilty of the offenses with which he is charged.
Yet, while Judge Real held a “mini-trial,” the brief contends that he refused to allow any evidence from the defense that would dispute the central core of the government’s case against Sanchez.
A focus of the case so far has been the government’s wiretaps of four calls in which Alex Sanchez certainly takes a leading role. But the crucial question has developed to be: was that leading role as a mediator and peace-maker or as a “shot caller” pushing the conversation to the ultimate murder in El Salvador of one Walter Lacinos (aka Camaron) by a gangster known as “Zombie”? A close second is whether the government got the wrong “Zombie.”
â€¦Of critical importance, given the district court’s focus on “the content of these [four wire-tapped] conversations” is the district court’s refusal to permit Father Greg Boyle’s testimony. Fr. Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country, and a nationally recognized gang expert knowledgeable in gang language, interactions and “codes.” After listening to the calls and reviewing Det. [Frank] Flores’s declaration re-interpreting the calls and the prosecution’s arguments based thereon, Fr. Boyle concluded that, rather than corroborating a murder plot, Mr. Sanchez’s statements reflected a gang mediator’s peacemaking efforts.
Anyway, there’s lots, lots more. So just read it.
By the way, when I last wrote about the bail hearing, although I was present in the court, I had not read the transcripts of the hearing. I have now.
And I can hardly wait to see how the government replies to this brief.