A story for every victim

Times coverage: Gang member testifies about Harbor Gateway killings

Cheryl Green, 14New court testimony sheds light on the motives and the planning that led to brutal killings in Harbor Gateway nearly a decade ago. Harbor Gateway gang members are standing trial for a racially motivated murder, as well as the fatal stabbing of a fellow gang member who they apparently was believed was working with police.

Officials said Cheryl Green, a 14-year-old black girl, was hanging out with friends on Dec. 15, 2000 in a driveway in the 20000 block of South Harvard Boulevard in Harbor Gateway when Jonathan Fajardo, a 22-year-old Latino and 204th Street gang member, walked up and started shooting at the crowd. Cheryl was killed. Prosecutors argued she was targeted for her race.

As police began the investigation in Cheryl's death, they interviewed Christopher Ash, another 204th Street gang member, and searched his home. The police attention  led to growing suspicions among Ash's fellow gang members that he had become a snitch.

Times reporter Victoria Kim has more about the allegations and testimony so far in the case:

The young man, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and shackled at the waist, was poised on the witness stand, politely addressing attorneys as "sir" and "ma'am" as he matter-of-factly described the night he and other gang members took turns stabbing a suspected snitch 80 times in a cramped, cluttered garage.

"He didn't scream or nothing," testified Jose Covarrubias, now 24, describing how he plunged a folding blade hard into 20-year-old Christopher Ash's stomach four or five times as he lay dying on his back.

The testimony of the 204th Street gang member with a youthful face and buzz-cut, also known as "Chano" or "Criminal," is at the center of a case on which a Los Angeles jury will resume deliberations Wednesday. Covarrubias' testimony in the high-profile hate crime trial, should the jury choose to believe it, ties the gang to Ash's death and to the slaying of a black 14-year-old girl, which authorities say was motivated by the Latino gang's racial hatred.

Covarrubias, who took the stand last month in exchange for a lighter sentence and escaping the death penalty, offered the jury a firsthand look into the inner workings of a powerful Latino street gang prosecutors said used fear and intimidation to reign over the sliver of Los Angeles known as the Harbor Gateway.

Part of that reign, Covarrubias' testimony showed, was an unsparing willingness to turn on the gang's own members when the occasion arose.

Gang members suspected Ash of talking to police about the killing of Cheryl Green two weeks earlier. His body was found on the side of a road in Carson. Autopsy photos showed numerous gashes in his stomach.

Cheryl was shot and killed while hanging out with friends in broad daylight because of her skin color, prosecutors allege. Jonathan Fajardo, 22, has admitted in a police interview to the shooting; his defense attorney disputes that the killing was motivated by race.

"Basically, we're against all black people," Covarrubias said of the gang.

Read the complete story: A violent death retold

Photo: Cheryl Green. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Post a comment

Before you post, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Remember, all posts are approved by a Times staffer. Profanity and personal attacks will not be approved.


Nine reader comments