'Gay Panic'

Near the scene of a gory crime, photo by Vinh Dao

Dentist Paul Janosik liked to sleep with "muchachos," and three young Mexican men—Antonio Muratalla Coyazo, Mynor Rolando "Chivo" Cordon-Suchtiz and Marcos Monroy—encouraged his sexual fantasies. Coyazo, 19 and an illegal immigrant, and Cordon-Suchtiz, 23, first met the 37-year-old USC graduate in January 2002 on Santa Ana's Fourth Street when they heard a car horn and a man whistle. Speaking later with police detectives, Coyazo said that the dentist had not hidden his sexuality and was obviously attracted to Cordon-Suchtiz, but did not seek a sexual interlude on that first day. Nor would they have engaged in homosexuality, he initially told police. Coyazo claimed Janosik had merely taken them to a cell phone store and then dropped them off at Coyazo's apartment, where they exchanged telephone numbers.

"He took us by, by my house on Civic Center [in Santa Ana] and he left," Coyazo told detectives.

As innocent as Coyazo portrayed himself, he and his pals harbored sinister ambitions. Dirt poor, they decided to capitalize on the chance meeting with Janosik, setting in motion a chain of events that culminated in a gory mess. The dentist was lucky to escape with his life.

On the morning of Feb. 5, 2002, policerecords show, Cordon-Suchtiz called the dentist's cell phone number four times. Janosik allegedly asked the men to perform a sexual "sandwich" on him. To lure the dentist to a rendezvous, Cordon-Suchtiz agreed on the telephone to a gang bang.

Speaking later with detectives, Coyazo—who attended one year at Santa Ana High School—said, "Chivo would tell him, like, yes . . . like he wanted to do a sandwich. But I wasn't going to do anything."

Their intentions are clearer when you consider the items they brought to their last meeting with the dentist: a .45 semi-automatic handgun and duct tape.

Janosik arrived at a Santa Ana Arco. The three men—who had been smoking marijuana—jumped in his car. While driving around, Janosik began to fondle Cordon-Suchtiz in the passenger seat. Cordon-Suchtiz pulled the gun. They stopped the car, taped the dentist's hands behind his back, threw him in the back seat and then took him on a two-hour drive that ended at an orange grove near the University of California at Riverside campus.

Somehow the three men tricked Janosik or failed to dissuade him from the idea that the kidnapping was merely rough foreplay.

Police records show the trio marched Janosik into the grove, stopping at a five-foot ditch. They ordered him to lie face down. When Cordon-Suchtiz put the gun to his temple, the dentist shook his head and said, "Oh, my God."

Cordon-Suchtiz pulled the trigger. The bullet shattered Janosik's skull, destroyed his left eye, caused permanent brain damage, ricocheted and then severely fractured his arm. Believing Janosik had been killed, his assailants took the dentist's wallet and cell phone and calmly walked back to his car.

But Janosik survived and later crawled out of the ditch. Danica Carillo, a passerby who saw Janosik emerge from the orange grove, described the scene as something from "a horror film." Covered from head to toe in blood, Janosik's skull and face was a grotesque mess. A veteran cop who later arrived at the scene became nauseous.

Driving back to Orange County in Janosik's car, the muchachos played Mexican folk music loudly on the radio. They used Janosik's cell phone to chat with their friends. While paramedics rushed Janosik to a hospital for emergency surgery, the trio entered a Santa Ana restaurant and, using Janosik's cash, enjoyed a large pineapple and ham pizza.

The taste of crime must have been appealing. On the following two days, Coyazo and Monroy, 19, drove around central Orange County in Janosik's car looking for additional robbery victims. In store and apartment complex parking lots, they used their handgun to rob four people: Robert Rosales, Steve Tran, Chang Tang and David Bella.

After three consecutive days of parking-lot robberies (and despite placing stolen license plates on Janosik's stolen 2000 Ford Focus), alert Santa Ana cop Raul Rivera stopped the men. Inside the car, officers found the gun used on Janosik, then barely holding on to life.

The case seemed a slam dunk, but justice is never clear.

At the Santa Ana Police Department's headquarters, Coyazo told Spanish interpreters that he understood his Miranda rights before an interrogation. According to extensive court documents reviewed by the Weekly, officers read the Miranda warning in Spanish before Coyazo answered questions about the crimes.

That fact isn't in dispute. Nevertheless, earlier this month, Coyazo told an appellate court that his right to a fair trial was violated when his subsequent confessions were used against him at trial. Through his taxpayer-funded defense attorney Richard Power, Coyazo said police—who'd made a seemingly helpful quip about cop TV dramas and the rights of suspects to avoid self-incrimination—had not been sensitive to the "risk of a cultural misunderstanding."

Power viewed the TV quip as evidence that police detectives had "minimized" the "importance of the [Miranda] waiver." He argued that Coyazo—an unemployed construction worker in the U.S. three years from Michoacan, Mexico—was "not familiar with [American] TV programs' reading of rights."

"The fact that Coyazo speaks Spanish and indicated a preference to speak in Spanish with the officers makes it clear he is a newcomer to this country and it speaks volumes," wrote Power.

Detectives were obligated to further "emphasize" the "importance of the warnings" to the "undocumented alien," Power told the three justices of the appeals court. That they hadn't was evidence police had "quite substantially" denied Coyazo his constitutional rights, he asserted.

Last week, the justices responded.

"We need not belabor this issue," wrote justices Eileen C. Moore, Kathleen O'Leary and Raymond J. Ikola on Jan. 10. "The fact that the detectives mentioned they had read him his rights 'like on TV' and the defendant was a Mexican immigrant, who may or may not have been familiar with American television, was irrelevant . . . [Coyazo] was indisputably informed of his rights."

If the justices were terse on that subject, they were downright perplexed—annoyed?—by Coyazo's second line of attack on his convictions: Janosik's homosexuality.

At trial, Coyazo's defense lawyer DerekBercher sought a not guilty verdict on the attempted murder charge. He encouraged the jury not to have any sympathy for Janosik or his desire for "perverted sex." He argued that the shooting had been justifiable, coming as it had in the "heat of passion."

"Think in particular about young men about the age of Mr. Coyazo, and when you think back to the kids and playground taunts and, you know, fag this, and you are gay, that is like a challenge to your manhood," Bercher told jurors in his closing argument. "So when you think about what Mr. Janosik had in his mind when he showed up in Santa Ana that day, that is important."

Also, Coyazo hadn't pulled the trigger and so he shouldn't be held responsible for the shooting, said Bercher, who closed the case by saying, "I need some smart jurors. I think I got them."

Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle began her closing argument this way: "No matter how much I like the defense attorney, I feel like I need to go home and take a shower, get the dirt off of me."

Schatzle bristled at the notion that the defendants had been provoked to violence by the thought of gay sex. She said their conduct "screams guilty." And she had a specific plea to jurors.

"Now, there may be something made of Janosik's homosexuality," she told jurors. "Well, homosexuality is not a crime. And whether we like it or not, it is someone's free choice. These three individuals got into that car with the gun knowing that Janosik was homosexual. It wasn't a surprise. It didn't surprise anybody what he wanted to do. But did he deserve to be shot in the head and left for dead?"

Cordon-Suchtiz and Monroy, whose defense attorneys (in separate trials) hadn't exploited the gay angle with jurors, were found guilty of attempted murder. But Coyazo—thanks primarily to Bercher's attack on Janosik—dodged a bullet. Jurors found him guilty of robbery and kidnapping but refused to hold him responsible for the shooting. The jury deadlocked on the charge.

But the gay issue wouldn't go away. Before sentencing, Bercher talked about his client's "Christian faith" and renewed his attack on Janosik's "kinky" desires.

"We all know what Mr. Janosik had in mind when he had these young boys [reality check: they were all adults] into his car," he said. "We know that maybe there was gay panic."

Bercher claimed that time served in county jail before trial plus deportation would be adequate punishment. Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue wasn't swayed. He sentenced Coyazo to life in prison with the possibility of parole. [His partners in crime were also sentenced to life in prison.]

Even in the penitentiary, however, Coyazo shaped his appeal of the conviction around the victim's sexuality: "The shooting occurred because Janosik went trolling for young Mexicans with whom he could play out his homosexual 'sandwich' fantasies."

The appellate justices were curt.

"The jury was free to believe [Coyazo's] version of events," they wrote. "They were also free to believe that all three men knew of Janosik's orientation and took advantage of it in the most calculating manner imaginable."

They denied Coyazo a new trial and affirmed his lengthy prison sentence.


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