Orange County's Francisco Rodriguez told a compelling story to gain sympathy in the criminal justice system: His buddy Ismael Sierra (a.k.a. "Whisper") died in his arms after being shot and killed by Stanton gangsters in July 2003.
"I seen he was bleeding from his mouth, and he had blood all over him," Rodriguez would later testify. "When I held him, I picked him up and I looked, and in his back was a big hole and there was blood coming out of it . . . I looked at him and he was trying to talk to me . . . . I couldn't understand what he was trying to tell me [as he died]."
Like a scene from countless movies, the horrific experience left him, he claimed, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and drove him to join the West Myrtle criminal street gang for revenge.
He claimed the PTSD caused him--drunk on booze and high on marijuana--to participate in the ambush killing of a rival hoodlum and the serious wounding of a second man outside a Red Roof Inn.
But, according to the FBI, Rodriguez's sad story was a lie to gain undeserved sympathy.
An Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy arriving at Whisper's death scene found him face down. The corpse had not been moved after the the fatal blast, and Rodriguez--in reality, a gangster who used the moniker "Trigger" since at least the age of 15, had no blood on his clothing.
Nevertheless, it took three trials in federal court to convict him of conspiracy to murder, extortion and drug trafficking.
Federal prosecutors, who despised Rodriguez's fake sympathy tale and lies on the witness stand, wanted a term of life, but acknowledged that U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna was unlikely to agree. They ultimately requested a punishment of 24 years in prison.
A taxpayer-funded defense lawyer argued that a term of 10 years was adequate especially considering the likelihood that Rodriquez will face an additional consequences after he's released from prison: deportation.
This month inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Selna rejected the government's view that the defendant, who has already been incarcerated in pre-sentencing lockup for almost eight years, is a hopeless gangster.
Citing Rodriguez's "youth and difficult upbringing" as well as his "pursue of educational opportunities" while locked up, Selna sided closer to the defense request and issued a term of 14 years.
"He has potential," the judge declared in calculating a "sufficient" punishment.
Rodriquez is lucky; if he'd been sentenced in Orange County Superior Court under California's severe anti-gang laws, he would likely be locked up for at least the next 40 or 50 years.
It's difficult to determine which federal prison is now home for this defendant because the U.S. Bureau of Prisons presently has 17 inmates with the name Francisco Rodriguez.