Last 'Dead Presidents' defendant takes the stand during his trial, denies gang affiliation
Dec 05, 2012 (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
SAN BERNARDINO -- Froylan Chiprez, the last defendant in the 2000 "Dead Presidents" quadruple homicide, does not consider himself a gang member.
And he has never considered himself a gang member, according to testimony he gave Tuesday during the 11th day of his trial.
Chiprez, who was born in Mexico and raised in the west side of San Bernardino, is charged with four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and special circumstances for an intentional killing while being active in a street gang on July 9, 2000, in the driveway of a Vine Street duplex in San Bernardino, according to court records.
But on Tuesday, when he took the stand inside a San Bernardino Superior courtroom, Chiprez admitted that two of his four brothers and a cousin were active in local gangs and that he spent a lot of his time with gang members.
"Why hang out with friends and relatives who were gang members ," his attorney James Gass asked.
"They're family," Chiprez replied.
The defendant is accused of going with a crew to a residence on Vine Street and opening fire on the group. Their motive was to remove fellow gang members from their positions of power, Deputy District Attorney Denise Yoakum said.
Two of the victims were presidents of local street gangs, prompting some law enforcement circles to dub the case "Dead Presidents," Yoakum said. The shooting happened because there were power struggles within the San Bernardino street gangs
Little Counts and Seventh Street, cliques within the West Side Verdugo, controlled by a prison gang.
Chiprez's account of what happened and why it happened are much different.
He testified that he did not go to the residence that night as a gang member looking to follow through on a green light order.
Instead he said his cousin asked him to go with him to a gang meeting that was called. Chiprez testified that he was just a bystander.
But during the meeting there were some problems, Chiprez testified. Although he was not part of the meeting, he jumped in when he saw people gang up on his cousin.
At some point Gilbert "Gibby" Agudo, president of the Little Counts gang at the time, pulled out a gun and pointed it at Chiprez, he testified.
"What did you do, " Gass asked.
"I pulled my gun out. I shot Gibby...in the chest," Chiprez said.
During a gun battle Chiprez was shot in both legs and fell against a concrete wall. Gilbert Agudo fell next to him, and Chiprez shot at him again, the defendant said.
Chiprez, who had been shot in both his legs at this point, testified that he laid there and played dead for a time. Then he limped off.
While he was walking away, he saw movement on his left side.
"I was in fear for my life. I just started shooting," he said.
Anthony Luna and his cousin Marcelino Luna were found dead at the scene.
Johnny Agudo, president of the Seventh Street Gang at the time, was also killed. Chiprez said he did not see who shot him.
The suspect's fled the scene and authorities arrested Chiprez on June 21, 2011, in Tijuana. He was extradited to the U.S. in December.
Two of the other defendants, Luis Mendoza and Lorenzo Arias, have already gone to trial and were convicted. They were sentenced to the death penalty.
John Ramirez, the fourth defendant, accepted a plea bargain before going to trial.
Chiprez's testimony came one day after a San Bernardino police detective said all four defendants in this case were hard-core gang members at the time of the shooting.
San Bernardino police Detective Marco Granado, a gang expert, testified Monday that Chiprez was a high-ranking member in Seventh Street, a clique of -- the largest Hispanic criminal street gang in the city.
Officials said Chiprez's account of what happened doesn't match any evidence or anything that has been said by other witnesses during the trial.
Witness testimony is expected to continue today.
Reach Lori via email or call her at 909-483-9378.
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