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California prosecutors oppose bail for alleged Mexican mafia boss

For those in his camp, Johnny Martinez is a brilliant and caring lawyer who has unjustly spent his entire adult life behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

But to those trying to keep him locked up, Martinez is the ultra-violent capo of a notorious prison gang that has extorted drug dealers and ordered hits on people who crossed him.

The two faces of Martinez — the reputed leader of the Orange County Mexican Mafia — will be presented before a federal judge May 24 in Santa Ana at a hearing to determine whether he should be released on bail on charges of helping organize two murders and six attempted homicides. .

He is among 31 alleged Mexican Mafia members named in a 2022 federal racketeering indictment that includes gun and drug trafficking charges. Dubbed “Operation Night Owl,” the investigation was presented by federal authorities as a major blow to the Mexican Mafia’s control of Orange County’s Latino street gangs.

Nonetheless, considerable efforts are underway by civil rights activists, prison reformers, friends, relatives and clergy to have Martinez, 48, released on bail on the grounds that he would not constitute a danger to the public or a risk of flight.

The bail motion states, “Mr. Martinez is not charged with personally committing the violent offenses” alleged in the indictment.

Veteran civil rights attorney Richard Herman is even risking $100,000 of his own money to help post the potential bail and offering Martinez a job at his law firm if bail is granted. Martinez reportedly lives with his fiancée and her family.

If Martinez is granted his release, it would be the first time he has been free since he was a teenager.

“There are a bunch of people willing to put their finances on the line,” said Richard Novak, one of the attorneys representing Martinez. “Everyone comes to the same conclusion: he is an extraordinary, intelligent and caring person who tries to help others. »

Or is he?

“Murderous Trends”

Prosecutors say Martinez “is adept at showing others a version of himself that is completely inconsistent with his murderous tendencies and his true object of greatest devotion: the Mexican Mafia.”

Martinez is so devoted to the gang and its criminal activities that he was heard saying in a wiretapped phone call that he would choose the Mexican Mafia over his own mother, according to a brief filed Wednesday (May 15) by prosecutors federal authorities opposing bail.

In another intercepted phone call between 2016 and 2022, Martinez is heard telling a recalcitrant Anaheim street gang member: “You want to disrespect me, I’ll (expletive) kill you in a heartbeat.” ‘eye (expletive),” the brief states. “My buddy is going to put a gun to your head and (expletive) shoot you, okay?”

Martinez, known as “Crow,” was convicted in 1994 for participating in a fight that ended in the stabbing death of Ricky Michaels after a basketball game in Fullerton. Under the law at the time, Martinez was considered as responsible as the actual killer, under the theory that Michaels’ death was a “natural and probable consequence” of the fight.

Martinez, just 18 years old, was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison.

“Invalid convictions”

Decades later, the law was changed, requiring murder defendants who are not the actual killers to be at least major players acting with reckless indifference to human life. In December, a judge overturned the conviction after 30 years and Martinez was convicted of a misdemeanor carrying an 18-month sentence.

“It shocks the conscience that it took three decades to correct Mr. Martinez’s invalid convictions,” his bail motion said.

However, instead of gaining his freedom, Martinez is now in federal custody facing Mexican Mafia racketeering charges.

As a prisoner in state custody, Martinez became a prison leader, teaching himself the law and organizing hunger strikes against what he saw as unjust prison conditions, such as the excessive use of solitary confinement. He took classes to become a paralegal, a marketable skill that could help him outside of prison.

Rise of the Mexican Mafia

However, according to published reports, he also rose to prominence within the deadly prison gang, taking the reins of the Orange County chapter of the Mexican Mafia after the 2016 death behind bars of leader Peter Ojeda , aka “Sana”.

According to state and federal indictments, Martinez used contraband cell phones while incarcerated to order murders and direct criminal activity on the streets. His alleged reign as leader of the Orange County gang was bloody, according to court records, although the state’s efforts to convict him were spotty.

Orange County prosecutors accused Martinez and another inmate of orchestrating the 2017 death of Placentia drug dealer Robert Rios, whom they suspected of failing to pay taxes to the Mexican Mafia. Rios was shot dead outside his home after confronting two men caught on his security cameras.

Charges against Martinez were dropped by a judge for lack of probable cause, according to court records. Additionally, the public defender’s office revealed that an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, a gang expert, lied in a related case. Rios’ murder is now part of the federal indictment against Martinez.

The racketeering indictment also accuses Martinez of ordering the 2017 death of Costa Mesa gang member Richard Velleda, who was shot seven times in the head and back and left for dead on a street in Orange. Three men described by federal prosecutors as Mexican Mafia foot soldiers who allegedly took their orders from Martinez were convicted of the murder.

Supporters predict a ‘bright future’

California Daily Newspapers

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