Martin Perez joined the Lyon Street criminal street gang at the age of 14 and enjoyed four relatively fun years in freedom using the moniker "Chino."
Perez recruited people for the gang, tagged his Orange County neighborhood, used gang symbolism as his cell phone wall paper, kept gang photographs on his computer and, according to his own court admission, spent nights standing on a street corner (even in bad weather) as a display of gang strength.
While locked in the Orange County Jail awaiting trial for attempted murder the 18-year-old caused a racial altercation, tagged his cell, requested Mafia-related books and used gang signs to communicate.
A 2011 jury found Perez guilty of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, assault likely to cause great bodily harm and active participation in a gang.
Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals sentenced him to prison for 21 years, which included a 10-year enhancement for gang involvement, according to court records.
Perez appealed, claiming that he shouldn't be held responsible for his gang activities; he was just a teenager on the night that he stabbed Martin Valerio--a rival Los Crooks gang member 12 times at a motel party; the stabbing was self defense; he had no other criminal record as an adult and, while in jail, he'd begun meeting with a Jehovah's Witness elder.
This week, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana rejected his complaint.
A three-justice panel wrote on Dec. 26 that while Perez "was not necessarily looking for trouble on the night of the party, he nonetheless violently stabbed Valerio with total disregard of Valerio's life" in a gang dispute.
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The justices--Raymond Ikola, Kathleen O'Leary and Richard Aronson--also noted in their eight-page decision that evidence of the defendant's gang membership was overwhelming and thus Goethals "acted well within" his discretion to add the decade-long gang enhancement.
Upshot: Perez will continue to serve his 21-year punishment (minus 1,202 days of pre-sentencing jail credit) inside the maximum security California State Prison at Sacramento, a penitentiary designed to house trouble-causing inmates.
(Also convicted in the case were Martin Flores, who got four years in prison, and Armando Aguilar Guevara, who got a year in jail.)