John O’Mara, for twenty years the top prosecutor in Sacramento’s homicide division, must decide whether or not to seek the death penalty, and his team of prosecutors must fight for justice for the family and the state.
This case—and others that are just as shocking, including the case against Nikolay Soltys, the Ukranian émigré who slit the throat of his pregnant wife and then killed four members of his family, including his three-year-old son, and a high-profile case involving the SLA and Patty Hearst—is the subject of The Prosecutors, a graphic, behind-the-scenes look at how the criminal justice system really operates.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
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By Gary Delsohn
Plume BooksCopyright © 2004 Gary Delsohn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEasy In, Easy Out
That went sour downtown. That went real sour downtown. -Rick Brewer to Carlos Cervantes
NOTHING could go wrong. That's what Rick Brewer told everyone. With a crew he could trust, Brewer knew there was a pile of cash waiting to be slipped into his empty pockets. A mean-eyed twenty-four-year-old parolee with a drug-addict girlfriend and three young children to feed, Brewer knew from experience that the Bread Store, a popular sandwich shop and bakery about a mile east of the California Capitol in Midtown Sacramento, was an easy target.
On November 23, 1996, just before 6:00 p.m., as the day's cash was about to be emptied from the registers and placed into a floor safe that could not be opened until the owners arrived the next morning, Brewer, a Latino, and an accomplice identified by witnesses as a tall, thin black man, slipped in through an open back door and held up the place. Between the registers and the employees' wallets they stole $1,903.42. Brewer's getaway driver was his sister, Angelina, who waited in the alley in her white Jeep Cherokee. The tall black man was Michael Smith, a paroled felon whose crime of choice was robbing small Sacramento motels. The stocky, slump-shouldered Brewer, wearing a child's skeleton mask from Halloween and carryinghis beloved Mossberg pistol-gripped twelve-gauge shotgun, scared the shit out of the employees who were closing up. No one was dumb enough to give the robbers any trouble. Not with Brewer and his ugly brown-and-black Mossberg-it measured a menacing twenty-eight inches from its finger-sculpted grip to its deadly muzzle opening-staring them in the face. It was a snap-easy in, easy out.
A month later, Christmas was coming. Brewer and his girlfriend, Marichu Flores, liked to party and get loaded. Their favorite drugs were cocaine and marijuana. Flores liked crank too. She used it heavily when she was pregnant with her then five-month-old son, Rick Brewer, Jr., and the baby suffered from drug-induced tremors when he was born.
The couple was not in the Christmas spirit, however. They'd been fighting even more than usual. Worn out and depressed, Flores had checked herself into a county mental health facility for some peace. When Brewer called to find out when she'd be coming home, he got belligerent at the nurse's stonewalling and threatened her. "I have the same thing the cops have," he barked into the phone, apparently referring to a gun. The nurse reported the threat and because he was a paroled felon, police came to search for the weapon. They couldn't find it, but a few days later caseworkers from the state's Child Protective Services agency came and took away his three children. Brewer ran for his shotgun, retrieved it from its hiding place, and was about to chase the CPS workers down the stairs of his apartment complex when Smith, who was with him at the time, stopped him. Brewer had already served time in state prison for dealing drugs and had no job skills or prospects. He was mad at the world. His kids and lady were gone. He was broke. Why not hit the Bread Store again?
Brewer didn't want to use his sister this time. Smith's cover was blown because he had refused to wear a mask in the first robbery. Brewer wanted a new crew, people he could control more easily. Because he and Flores had lived in Southside Park before they moved a few months earlier to an apartment several miles north, he was familiar with a lot of the young wanna-be gangsters in the area. Southside is a rough part of Sacramento that sits on the southern edge of downtown. The new office towers and a downtown mall are achingly close by, but the only common ground between the impoverished streets of Southside and the shiny buildings a few blocks north is at lunchtime, when the secretaries and state office workers put on their running shoes and jog around the well-worn track at the park's edge. At night, Southside Park itself is a haven for drug dealers and gangbangers, despite a couple of new housing complexes sponsored by the city and a few brave urban homesteaders.
Brewer knew the scene. He had plenty of punks to enlist from the collection of unsupervised teenage males who used the park to hang out and get wasted. Because everyone in the neighborhood knew Brewer had been to the joint and wasn't reluctant to kick someone's ass when necessary, many of these punks both looked up to him and were afraid of him. None of them would give him any shit.
"Easy in, easy out," he told sixteen-year-old Carlos Cervantes, a sweet-faced kid who liked to steal cars and was among Brewer's Southside admirers. When he wasn't smoking dope, Cervantes would sometimes play touch football in the park with his two younger brothers. He could run like a track star and dreamed of becoming a professional football player, but he was too little and undisciplined to have a chance.
"Wanna make some money?" Brewer asked him a few days before Christmas. "You down for a lick?"
"Yeah, man, I'm down," Los, as his neighborhood buds called him, assured Brewer. He didn't want to appear weak in front of him.
For a wheelman, Brewer chose Bobby Dixon, a twenty-three-year-old parolee who was only three weeks out of state prison for grand theft auto. Brewer had grown up with Dixon, a tall, skinny black man who, like Carlos, could barely read or write but had an uncanny talent for being able to bust into a locked car, get it started, and rip it off in less than five minutes. Brewer, whose father and grandfather had each served time in state prison for robbery and drug-related crimes, felt he could trust Dixon. If they got caught, Brewer knew Dixon would keep things quiet with the cops. Dixon knew how things worked. He'd served almost two years of a three-year sentence for the auto theft and a prior purse-snatching. On November 29, 1996-six days after Brewer first robbed the Bread Store-Dixon was released on parole and came to live in Southside with his grandmother. He needed cash. He could be depended on. Brewer considered him rock-solid loyal. Dixon wasn't too bright, but he understood what a snitch's life was worth.
Brewer was the only one in the group who had a car that ran, a ratty old 1976 Cutlass, but he wasn't about to use it in a robbery. They needed some wheels, a G-ride they could dump right after the job. It was up to Dixon and Cervantes to find one. The term G-ride came from the gangsta rap music Brewer and his pals liked to listen to while they drank malt liquor and hung out in the park. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube. That was their language, the slang of the streets. A gangster's car was his G-ride, a robbery was a lick. Everything was cool.
Three days before Christmas, Dixon and Cervantes were walking around the neighborhood when they found their G-ride parked outside a dive not far from the park called the Monte Carlo Club. The black, four-door 1992 GMC Jimmy was sitting in the alley. It was a snap to jack. Dixon smashed the driver's side window, got in, and, using a screwdriver he kept in his back pocket, started tinkering with the steering column until the engine started. Dixon told his pals that when they finished using the G-ride, he planned to get some help and take the motor out and put it into his own dead 1976 Buick Skylark.
As soon as he got his hands on the Jimmy, Dixon was driving the hot truck like a wild man around the streets of his neighborhood. He'd burn rubber and peel down the street, try to take a turn on two wheels. He did doughnuts, accelerating and slamming the brakes so the car spun in a circle. He wanted everyone to see his new ill-gotten toy. Less than a month out of the joint for the same crime and hes showing all the punks in the street how he makes his own damn rules. Fuck the cops. It was a game to Dixon and his boys.
Brewer wanted a couple more guys to go in and help him loot the place and make sure the employees followed his orders without a fuss. Rickie Martinez and James David Glica were sixteen-year-old gangbangers who knew Brewer from when they used to visit their girlfriends in the apartment complex Brewer and Flores lived in. Martinez was a short and stocky wiseass who didn't do much except drink, say motherfucker a lot, and chase girls. His mom, Rhonda Ybarra, tried desperately to keep an eye on him and make sure he stayed in school, but she had too many of her own problems to make it happen. She had a steady job with the state but lousy taste in men. She freely admits drinking and drugging too much while Rickie was growing up. Rickie's dad used to slap her around and spent time in state prison for a variety of crimes, most having to do with drugs. She remarried another felon who drank and abused her and Rickie.
Martinez had been in and out of several juvenile offender facilities for crimes that included possession of a loaded .38-caliber handgun at school, stealing cars, throwing rocks at a moving car, assault, and robbery.
Glica was different. He was bright, curious about the world. He was a talented artist, good enough to be a professional illustrator. His father is a minister who also worked for the Sacramento Opera Association, but Glica and he were not very close. J.D.'s parents divorced when he was about twelve, and his mom moved with the kids to Arizona to get her son away from his gang associations in Sacramento. He moved back to town to stay with his dad, who is gay-a fact that often landed J.D. on the short end of fights trying to stick up for him when he did attend school.
Unhappy and on his own most of the time, Glica had a temper. He had been arrested for seriously beating a twenty-five-year-old man who simply came up to him on a street in Davis, a college town fifteen miles west of Sacramento, and asked him if he knew where a party was. On the afternoon of December 23, 1996, Glica and Martinez wandered over to the park to hang with their homies. Brewer asked if they wanted to "pull a lick downtown." Neither had the balls-or the inclination-to say no.
Trevor Garcia, twenty-three, a year younger than Brewer, was dough faced and pudgy. He was a doper and acute diabetic whose parents were divorced. He and his dad had moved about a year earlier from the Bay Area to the same apartment complex Brewer and Flores lived in. Affable and more laid back than the others, Garcia had no menace in him. He needed insulin shots twice a day and also had to take medicine for high blood pressure and to regulate his kidneys. He wasnt an angel, but Garcia had no criminal record. Twice in recent years his kidneys had failed and hed had to be rushed to the hospital. He was a follower, without much ambition of his own. Broke most of the time, on welfare, Garcia hung out at Brewer's a lot, catching a buzz and chilling over video games. He liked "40s," tall cans of cheap Olde English malt liquor. One or more of the large beers would knock out most people. Despite his poor health, Garcia seemed able to drink them all day.
Brewer had been pitching him about the job for more than a month, even before the first robbery. "I was down," Garcia would say later. "I didn't want to be a punk."
Brewer mapped things out. He told everyone he'd been peeping the place for a while. Dixon would stay in the G-ride. He'd sit in the alley with the motor running. The other four would force whatever employees were in the store to the floor and make sure no one moved. They'd empty the registers while Brewer did what he did best: scare the crap out of people. He'd wave the Mossberg in the air and freak out everyone with his new disguise: a red devil mask with horns, fake hair, and a deranged open-mouthed smile. He gave Garcia his old skeleton mask. Glica was to cover his face in a red T-shirt. Martinez got a nylon stocking somewhere and would use that to shield his identity. Dixon didn't need a mask because he wasn't going in. Everyone would wear gloves so no one could identify them or the color of their skin. That way they'd also leave behind no prints.
That was the plan. Easy in, easy out.
By the time dusk rolled around, everyone but Brewer and Dixon had been drinking heavily. With Dixon at the wheel, they got into the Jimmy and made sure everyone knew their assignments. It was about 5:00 p.m., a typically cold and damp December day in the California capital. They had a few stops to make and planned to get to the Bread Store by six o'clock, just before the cash went into the floor safe. Two days before Christmas, they figured there'd be a lot more money now, even better than Brewer's Thanksgiving take. Everything was good.
Everything but the G-ride. It was a piece of shit. When they tried to start it and pull away, the battery was dead. They still had some time, so Dixon ran around the corner and pulled the battery out of his car. Within twenty minutes, they were ready to get moving but Lisa Lopez, Cervantes's seventeen-year-old girlfriend, had wandered by. She'd been hanging around the park with a few of the neighborhood girls and was screaming at Cervantes to get out of the car. Carlos got out of the Jimmy to talk with her, calm her down. Dixon's sister, Faye, was so disgusted with Dixon that she had called the cops and said her brother was driving around like an asshole in a stolen truck. Lisa didn't want Cervantes to be with him when the cops picked up his sorry ass.
"The police know about the car, Los. Don't go," she said with tears in her eyes.
Brewer yelled to his boy. "Los, come here." Cervantes went over. Brewer's dark eyes narrowed. "You ain't gonna go, Los?" Cervantes looked at Lisa, looked at Brewer. "No, man," he said. "I'm cool." The others in the Jimmy called him names: pussy, punk, bitch. Fuck you, they yelled at him. But Cervantes was out of the car, out of the plan.
Now they were in a hurry. Dixon drove with Brewer in the passenger seat, his devil's mask and the Mossberg on the floor between them. Garcia was behind Dixon. Martinez sat behind Brewer. Glica, holding the red T-shirt he'd wrap around his face, was lying down in the back of the Jimmy. They stopped at a nearby gas station, where Glica jammed his feet against the back window several times until he managed to kick it out. If he had to, he could escape from the Jimmy in an instant. They put in a few bucks and were off.
By the time they got to the Bread Store it was 6:25 p.m. Most of Sacramento and its sprawling suburbs were preparing for the holiday. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. Some of the nearby stores, like the Beat, a hip record emporium and cafi a few doors down, were busy with Christmas shoppers.
Excerpted from The Prosecutors by Gary Delsohn Copyright © 2004 by Gary Delsohn. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsThe ProsecutorsAcknowledgements
Chapter 1: Easy In, Easy Out
Chapter 2: It's Going to Be a Tough Year
Chapter 3: I Want Twelve Americans
Chapter 4: Child Killer
Chapter 5: On with the Show
Chapter 6: Suspicious Story
Chapter 7: Southside Punks
Chapter 8: Dead Bang Winner
Chapter 9: Great Bodily Injury Resulting in Death
Chapter 10: Trial By Jury
Chapter 11: Kidnap, Rape, Murder, Justice
Chapter 12: Closing Arguements
Chapter 13: Serial Killer
Chapter 14: Doctor on Trial
Chapter 15: Major Participant
Chapter 16: Life or Death
Chapter 17: One Less Case
Chapter 18: L.A. Blues
Chapter 19: Decision Time
Chapter 20: Long Time Coming
Chapter 21: The Frosts
Chapter 22: Epilogue: The Sacramento District Attorney
What People are Saying About This
"The Prosecutors is the ultimate insider’s look at the criminal justice system." —Michael Connelly, bestselling author of Lost Light
"Detailed, insightful reporting...[A] remarkable book." —The Seattle Times
"This is a gripping insider account–the good, the bad and ugly, the ambitious, the all-too-human, and the gossipy." —The Oregonian