Escondido Armando was looking forward to meeting with Lucy that Friday evening, October 26, 2007. A laborer for a tree-trimming company, he borrowed his sister’s ’96 Mustang and drove to where Lucy asked him to meet her, across the street from the small stucco house on the corner of Maple and West Felicita in Escondido. It was after dark, not yet 8:00 p.m.
Lucy was outside when Armando arrived. She ran across Maple to get into his car, but she stayed on her cell phone, telling him she was speaking with her mother. Lucy got in and out of the car several times, going in and out of the house.
“I had the car running at first; then she told me to turn it off,” Armando (not his real name) would testify in court. He still had the radio on.
He had visited with Lucy once before. “I met her around the neighborhood I used to live at,” he said in court nine months later. “I lived on Grape Street,” about two miles away, a street of apartment buildings and mostly dingy houses with unkempt yards that runs through the heart of Diablos turf.
While Armando and Lucy sat in his car that October night, someone reached in the open window on the passenger’s side and tried to grab the keys.
Then the man walked around to the back of the car. Armando got out to meet the man behind the car, but from the corner of his eye he saw someone jump into the driver’s side. He had left the car door open. Now a second man was behind the wheel. The first man was demanding, “Give it to me. Give it to me.” But Armando turned his back on him and dashed to the driver’s seat, trying to save his sister’s car from being stolen.
As Armando struggled inside the car, fighting to put it back in park, he felt someone “punching” him. “I felt like I was just getting hit in my back, maybe my chest.” He retreated from the car to face his attacker.
“I realized at some point I was bleeding. I had a white T-shirt, so it was obvious I was bleeding.” Amazed, Armando said out loud, “You stabbed me!” and the assailant told him, “Give it to me or I’ll stick you again.” Armando pulled a $50 bill out of his pocket and gave it to the attacker. He tried to give him a kick. Then he ran, heading for the lights and activity of the business district one block away.
While he ran, he called 911.
“I got stabbed. I’m bleeding,” Armando’s panicky voice can be heard on tape saying to the dispatcher. He said that he recognized his attackers. “They hang out on Grape Street,” and they are “Diablos.”
Escondido police officer Thomas Fidel met Armando at the 7-Eleven on South Escondido Boulevard.
“The first thing I asked him, ‘Who did this?’ ” Fidel testified in court. “He said, ‘Shadow, from the Diablos gang.’ ”
The 235 members of the Diablos gang specialize in street robberies and assaults. Escondido has three other gangs: the 111-member Westside, the 8-member Santos, and the newest, the 6-member Eastside. In Escondido, gangs steal cars to get around or to use to commit another crime. Last year, 86 percent of vehicles stolen in the city were recovered, the majority within five days. Armando’s car was one of 115 stolen in Escondido that October. The Mustang was found one week later in the northwest section of the city.
Detective Erik Witholt, a gang specialist with the Escondido Police Department, recognized the name Shadow. He was Hector Bravo, 33, and he had at least seven other names listed in records in the Superior Court in Vista. “Prison priors” listed in court documents include several convictions for auto theft: one in 1991, when Bravo was 16 years old; another in 1993, as well as convictions that year for burglary of an inhabited dwelling and escape from lawful custody; and a third auto theft conviction in 1995. In 1998, Bravo was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful carry and possession of weapon, and “serious felony,” wherein the defendant personally used a dangerous weapon, a “strike” under the Three Strikes and You’re Out Law.
In 2004, in a plea agreement dated May 4, Bravo signed his name as Hector Javier Alvarado and admitted to willfully aiding and abetting concealment of two stolen motor vehicles. Judge Casserly sentenced him to four years in state prison, but in August 2007, Bravo was released back onto the street.
Two days after Armando was stabbed, while recuperating at his sister’s house, he was surprised to see Bravo standing in front of the house next door. Armando called the police, who arrested Bravo in a nearby Laundromat. He was charged with four felony counts: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, and car theft, as well as with four special allegations, which could increase the sentence if Bravo were convicted.
The trial was held in July of this year. Deputy district attorney Cal Logan prosecuted the case; court-appointed attorney Daniel Mitts represented Hector Bravo.
On the witness stand, after describing the incident, Armando was asked by Logan if he had scars from the attack. Armando came down from the stand, removed his shirt, and showed knotted scars on his chest and right arm. Armando described pain and difficulty breathing during the weeks of his recovery. He said that after about four weeks he tried to go back to work.
Logan asked Armando what Lucy had been doing while the carjacking was under way.
Armando remembered Lucy standing by the trunk of the car, and “She was crying and sobbing.” He remembered that “Lucy was saying, ‘Listen to what they are saying’ and ‘Do what they say.’ ”
Lucy has one stolen vehicle conviction. Court records show that she pleaded guilty in December 2006, writing, “I unlawfully received a stolen vehicle knowing such vehicle to be stolen.” As part of the plea agreement, the district attorney’s office dropped two other charges — felony car theft and possessing burglary tools — and Superior Court judge Timothy Casserly reduced the remaining charge to a misdemeanor. Lucy was 21 years old when she signed the plea agreement, her large, loopy L and A flowing outside the initialing boxes.
Lucy testified on July 23. Her baby could be heard crying in the hallway before she appeared. Now 23 years old, she sat in the witness stand with her hand at her mouth.
She testified that she did not know Armando, Hector Bravo, or anyone named Shadow. Walking over to stand behind Bravo, Logan asked Lucy again if she had ever seen this man before. Bravo was smiling at her.
“I don’t recall him,” she responded. “I don’t know him.”
Logan showed Lucy and the jury an enlarged photo exhibit of Armando lying on his back with his bloody wound exposed. “I don’t know him,” said Lucy.
Logan asked her whom she had talked to on her cell phone that night. She said her cell phone had been stolen.
“I couldn’t find it.”
“Around that time.”
Logan persisted. Was her cell phone stolen October 26, 2007? A Friday? Lucy replied that it had been “stolen weeks before that.” Logan produced cell phone records, and Lucy admitted that she recognized her mother’s phone number in the list.
Between 5:53 and 8:45 on the night of the incident, her mother’s phone number appeared nine times, pointed out the prosecutor.
“You placed those calls, right?”
“No. I don’t recall,” said Lucy.
She testified that she had never been in the Mustang.
“You don’t like telling the truth, do you?” asked Logan.
“What are you trying to say? I’m telling the truth,” she replied.
Logan pointed out a large peace officer sitting in the courtroom. “Do you recognize this detective?”
“Oh, yeah, he came to my house,” said Lucy, looking at Detective Witholt briefly.
“You didn’t tell him your phone had been stolen, did you?”
When Lucy finished testifying, Judge Pressman told her to wait in the witness room until the day’s proceedings were completed. After the jury had been excused, the judge made the unusual move of bringing her back before the court. Lucy stood alone in the center of the room, looking up at the judge. Pressman said to her, “You need to know that I find your testimony incredible. There are laws in this state regarding perjury — that is, lying under oath — and I do not take that lightly.” He paused. “Were you telling the truth?” “Yes,” Lucy immediately replied. Another long pause. “I may well recommend to the district attorney” that charges of perjury be pursued, said Judge Pressman. Before he dismissed her, he added, “You are a bad example for your children and a bad example for this community.”
The next day, Dr. Stephen Kaminski, a trauma and critical care surgeon at Palomar Medical Center, was called to the stand. He testified that when paramedics delivered Armando to the center, he had “what looked like stab wounds on his arm and chest.” The doctor’s first assessment of Armando’s condition was a “high degree of risk for having injured the heart.” Showing the doctor People’s Exhibit Number One, the photograph of Armando lying on his back, chest exposed, with a gaping red wound beside his left nipple, Logan had the doctor confirm that this was the patient he saw that night. The doctor said that scans and X-rays revealed “a pulmonary contusion…injury to the lung directly below the rib.… Had it not struck a rib, it clearly could have killed him.” The doctor also described the dangerous proximity to the stab wound of “aorta vessels” and “pulmonary vessels.” He testified that Armando’s chest puncture was “a potentially fatal, life-threatening injury.”
During the trial, Logan introduced as evidence an envelope addressed to the house on Felicita. The address had been written by Hector Bravo, who’d sent a letter from prison to friends living in the house, the same house where Lucy had told Armando to meet her. In closing arguments, the prosecutor reminded the jury that “the defendant has friends” in the house on Felicita; “he writes letters to people there.”
In the defense’s closing argument, Bravo’s attorney, Daniel Mitts, pointed out that no one had said they’d seen a knife, nor was any weapon recovered. “He invented that,” said Mitts, referring to Armando’s claim of being stabbed. “Maybe [Armando] injured himself on the door,” Mitts said.
Mitts characterized Armando’s wound as a “moderate injury,” which did not warrant a guilty verdict for attempted murder. “It’s a flesh wound,” he said. “What did it take? Four staples.” The victim’s sister “said in three weeks he’s fine.
“This whole case depends on the believability of their victim.… The victim changed his story, making it stronger each time he tells it.”
The judge sent the jury into deliberations just before noon on July 29; it returned with a decision on July 31. The verdict was guilty on three counts: assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, and car theft. Bravo now had a second strike on his record. The jury also found Bravo guilty of all the allegations, including personally using a deadly weapon and personally inflicting great bodily injury. However, they found him not guilty of the attempted murder charge. One juror who declined to be named stated as she was leaving the courtroom that it was a “problem” that “the only witness was the victim.”
On October 6, before pronouncing sentence, Judge Pressman expressed his thoughts on the case.
“The level of violence that has been shown by this defendant is senseless and egregious…creating great bodily injury,” he said. “This crime was planned in advance. You were using Lucy as bait.… You are a serious danger to this community.”
Bravo was sentenced to 32 years in prison.