Two Latino gang members in Los Angeles entered into plea deals Thursday in a federal hate crimes case stemming from a New Year’s Eve beating of a black teenager in the city of Compton.
The guilty pleas by Jeffrey “Turkey” Aguilar, 20, and Efren “Looney” Marquez, 22, are the first cases to be tried in Los Angeles under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. The act makes it a federal hate crime to assault people based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
“Finding justice for victims of civil rights violations is among the most important responsibilities of FBI agents,” said Bill Lewis, assistant director for the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. “The success of this case is due to the shared goals and long-term cooperation between the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the FBI, and prosecutors at the Department of Justice.”
The two members of the Compton 155 street gang beat a black teenager on New Year's Eve using a metal pipe and threatened a second juvenile with a gun. They then started yelling racial epithets at members of a black household where one of the victims had fled.
Aguilar and Marquez were part of a group of 15 gang members who assaulted the teenager and then verbally attacked members of a nearby house. Under questioning, a seemingly repentant Aguilar admitted to beating one of the victims and admitted the attack was racially motivated, police said.
"I assaulted him ... caused him bodily injury," Aguilar said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Marquez, who local media said appeared unremorseful and even cocky when he took the stand, said in his plea deal that “race and color were substantial motivating factors for the attack on M.L.”
Aguilar and Marquez face up to 10 years in federal prison when they are sentenced Jan. 6 of next year.
“Hate crimes affect not only the victims, they also destroy our society’s democratic principles” said Sheriff Lee Baca of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. “Law enforcement is dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all members of our community. The success of this joint investigation sends a message that racially motivated crimes will not be tolerated.”