By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
* * *
On a Sunday afternoon in 2003, PEN1 member Chad Russell Studebaker—wearing his gang's trademark red shoe laces—bought a pizza at a Little Caesar's and didn't bother to stop when he left the parking lot for Beach Boulevard. His sudden appearance forced Stanton sheet metal worker Francisco Espinoza to swerve into another lane to avoid a collision. In a car that had a Nicaraguan flag decal on the rear bumper, Espinoza drove his wife, his infant daughter and the couple's seven-year-old. He passed Studebaker and gestured with his palms upward as if to ask, "Hey, what happened?" The gangster became enraged. He accelerated, swerved in front of Espinoza and slammed on his breaks.
Espinoza saw an afternoon that began with a pleasant family birthday party turn into a nightmare. Studebaker reached between his car seats, grabbed an object and then exited his car. Fearing there might be gunfire, Espinoza left his car to draw attention away from his family. According to police records, Studebaker held a sharp knife behind his right leg and then lunged at Espinoza's throat. The knife severed Espinoza's Star-of-David necklace, slammed into his throat and caused profuse bleeding.
"You cut me, you son of a bitch," said a dizzy Espinoza as he told his wife to call 911 and he chased Studebaker back to his car. The gangster who goes by the moniker "Trigger" then repeatedly slashed Espinoza's face with the knife. Studebaker sped off.
Holding a flap of skin in place, Espinoza managed to get back into his own car and gave chase. In a cul-de-sac, a trapped Studebaker slammed his car into Espinoza's Honda Accord, disabling both cars. A man saw the collision and called 911. As Espinoza waited for paramedics to treat potentially fatal gashes, his family cried; Studebaker—already a convicted felon with swastika, pro-Hitler and "Hate Inc." tattoos—smiled and mockingly waved goodbye. He fled on foot to Buena Park, where he stole a woman's car and drove to a PEN1 crash pad near Lake Elsinore.
And here's where the story turns ironic. Despite his hatred of Mexicans, Studebaker was plotting to avoid prosecution by relocating to, drum roll, Mexico when Riverside deputies arrested him. In an interview with authorities, he blamed the violence on Espinoza, whom he said had made a simple mistake. He'd disrespected him.
After emergency surgery, Espinoza lived. But he has a scar on his throat as a permanent reminder of his experience.
This month, the state court of appeal considered Studebaker's appeal of his conviction. Among other assertions, he'd claimed that Huntington Beach police detective John Van Holt, a gang expert, unfairly "maligned his character" during the trial. Holt had told the jury about Studebaker's criminal history and noted that Orange County hoodlums frequently use violence to enhance their status in the gang. Studebaker argued that, while he wants "Mexicans, Blacks and Jews" out of the country, he didn't use any racial epithets when he attacked Espinoza.
Presiding Justice David G. Sills as well as justices William F. Rylaarsdam and Richard M. Aronson weren't impressed.
"This white racist gang has as its main focus 'street crime' and will unexpectedly and without warning lash out violently—especially to minorities—without saying anything or identifying themselves," the justices wrote. "Studebaker's assault on Espinoza was committed to enhance his standing in PEN1 and inflict injury on one he perceived as being inferior to him and not deserving of admission into his country."
Suggesting that society isn't going to tolerate street terrorism, the court okayed Studebaker's lengthy punishment. For at least the next 15 years, he'll reside in a California prison cell.
Back at the Traditional Values Coalition, reality is fleeting. Lafferty and Sheldon insist hate crimes are an invention of the political left. It's often "name calling," they say. "Nothing more."