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Saturday, 5 April 2008

Serafin Sandoval-Vega,Manuel Enrique Camacho,Roxana Hernandez This wasn’t a road-rage shooting. It was a Sureno 13 gang initiation

Daniel Ray Francis, a father of four from Little Flock, was shot in the back of the head May 6, 2006, as he rode in a friend’s car on U. S. 71 Business near Pleasant Grove Road. Serafin Sandoval-Vega, 20, Manuel Enrique Camacho, 27, and Roxana Hernandez, 22, are charged in Benton County Circuit Court in connection with his death. Witness statements show that 32-year-old Francis was gunned down in a gang crime, prosecutors say. Tracy Stith told investigators that he and Francis had been in a roadway dispute with the trio and that both cars took turns cutting in front of each other and slamming on the brakes. After about 15 minutes, Sandoval-Vega stuck a gun out the window of Camacho’s Honda Civic and fired, prosecutors say. “This wasn’t a road-rage shooting. It was a gang initiation,” said Al Valdez, a gang expert. “Mr. Camacho seized an opportunity in a dispute with strangers to let Sandoval-Vega commit a crime to get into a gang.” Sandoval-Vega, whom prosecutors say pulled the trigger, is charged with capital murder, while Camacho and Hernandez are charged with being accomplices. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Sandoval-Vega and Camacho. Hernandez, if convicted, faces up to life in prison. Valdez is a retired California gang investigator who is an adjunct professor with University of California, Irvine. He is a regular guest on the History Channel TV series Gangland.
Circuit Judge Tom Keith will decide before a May 7 hearing if Valdez’s testimony will be allowed as evidence. Defense attorneys Friday called their own expert who contested the findings of Valdez. Valdez said Friday that he made his determination in the case based on gang tattoos on Camacho’s body, on Camacho’s deep involvement with gang crime in California and on statements that he and others made after their arrests in Benton County. Valdez relied heavily on statements by informants who told prosecutors Camacho bragged to them in detail while in the county jail that the killing was a gang initiation. Camacho bragged to informants that he’s a “shot caller” with a local sect of Sureno 13, a Hispanic gang with roots in California, Valdez said. Camacho purportedly said the gang requires new members to shoot someone to get in. Camacho told informants he and the others were “on a mission” the day of the shooting, meaning they were carrying out a gang act or crime, Valdez said.
Camacho told informants he “threw” a gang sign before Sandoval-Vega fired at Francis, and that he told Sandoval-Vega to “shoot that fool,” Valdez said.
As a juvenile, Camacho had been convicted in Monterey County, Calif., in a drive-by shooting, Valdez said. After he moved to Rogers, he told police who questioned him in 2006 that he belonged to the South 18 th Street gang. After his arrest in Francis’ slaying, he bragged to informants that he had “people below him” in the local gang. “This is typical of gang members who leave California and become transplants in other states,” Valdez said. “He became a big fish in a little pond. The local kids looked up to him. He had instant street credibility.” Camacho’s tattoos include “Sur” on his stomach and “13” on his right arm, Valdez testified. On his neck, he has “831” the area code near where he lived in California. Camacho looked gaunt in court Friday and wore the collar of a white dress shirt up high around his neck. He and Hernandez had several supporters in court, while Sandoval-Vega had none. Twyla Francis, widow of the dead man, sat stoically with friends and family. Her face flushed when Valdez said the defendants “played with” Francis and Stith, engaging them in the roadway dispute for about 15 minutes before Sandoval-Vega fired with Camacho’s gun.
The defense expert, Brian Contreras, who runs the nonprofit youth program Second Chance in Salinas, Calif., testified that the shooting lacks the characteristics of a true gang shooting. Contreras studies and works with members of Vagos Sureno, a gang Camacho belonged to when he lived in the Salinas area.

“I don’t believe this crime was gang-related,” Contreras said. “Most gang crime is gangon-gang. The majority of our gang members will not target innocent victims. They’re out for territorial-based control, and they will not shoot an innocent person as an initiation. They’ll target rival gang members.” An arrest affidavit released shortly after the shooting states that Stith and Francis first noticed Camacho’s black Honda Civic after the two men left County Line Liquor in Springdale.

“Look out for the guys behind us,” Francis said to Stith, his coworker at J. B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell.
Stith said the Honda sped up behind his Acura, then quickly passed it. The Civic whipped in front of Stith’s car and applied the brakes three times.
Camacho stuck his hand out the sunroof and made an obscene gesture, Stith said. Stith drove behind the Civic for a while, then passed it. He got in front of the car and, too, tapped his brakes.
The two cars separated and continued north on 71 B. At Pleasant Grove Road, the Civic pulled up alongside Stith and Francis and the tinted passenger window went down. A gun came out and began firing.
Francis was struck three times. Stith said he got the Civic’s license plate and called 911.
Hours later, police arrested the trio at a Bentonville convenience store parking lot. They found a pistol and a box of bullets in Camacho’s car, court records show.

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