An Elkhart man is facing 100 years in prison for attempted murder. Tuesday night, he was only facing 50 years in prison. On Wednesday in Elkhart County Circuit, however, state prosecutors were able to prove a case for criminal gang enhancement beyond a reasonable doubt.
Elkhart Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker and Deputy Prosecutor David Francisco drew upon expert testimony from Officers Rich Madison and Elkhart Detective John Mohan in order to establish that Jose Alejandro was affiliated with a gang at the time he participated in the attempted murder of Flavio Contreras, based on the following evidence:
1) The presence of gang tattoos (Alejandro has a tattoo of a five-pointed crown, which is a symbol for the Latin Kings)
2) A distinctive way of dressing identified with gang affiliation (prosecutors showed that dressing with clothing on the left is a sign of gang affiliation)
3) Presence of gang signs
4) Gang nicknames (Alejandro also is known as “King Loco”)
5) Association with persons known to be gang members (prosecutors showed a photograph of Alejandro with known gang members.)
Francisco said that to claim to be a member of gang when one is not, would be seen as a punishable sign of disrespect. He showed the jury a photograph of Alejandro wearing the Latin King colors of yellow and black in front of other gang members, which Francisco said clearly showed his presence was not seen as disrespectful.
The situation that led to the 21-year-old’s sentencing began on May 23, 2012. That’s when prosecutors said Jose Alejandro showed up at the home of Flavio Contreras near the intersection of County Road 19 and County Road 8 in Washington township.
Alejandro was looking for an associate named Dennis Patino. Witnesses say Patino had written something disrespectful about the Latin Kings gang on his Facebook page, which was grounds for punishment according to gang rules.
Prosecutors said Alejandro then took Contreras to a county road away from the house. After Contreras continued to refuse to disclose Patino's whereabouts, Alejandro ordered someone identified by Contreras as “Eric” to shoot him.
Contreras was shot five times and left by the side of the road. A doctor who examined him after he was shot, testified that Contreras would have died without immediate help.
“Only gang activity explains [why] … [Alejandro] watched as Eric shot his buddy and left him for dead,” said Francisco after telling the jury that Alejandro and Contreras were childhood friends.
In his closing statement, Francisco reminded jurors of Det. Mohan’s testimony that he had personally observed how Alejandro had worn his hair and Latin King crown symbols with pride.
Alejandro was convicted Tuesday of attempted murder.
The jury left for deliberations at approximately 2:30 p.m. It took only 20 minutes for the 12 members to come back with a verdict that the state had proved the case for a criminal gang enhancement based on three factors:
1) That Alejandro was a member of a gang--in this case, the Latin Kings
2) Alejandro was a member of a gang at the time of the attempted murder
3) Alejandro committed the felony offense at the direction of the gang
Alejandro is scheduled to be sentenced exactly one year from the day that Contreras was shot on May 23.