GANGS: Conviction in death of Pico Rivera grandmother

This story culminates a sad case that I wrote about when it took place: Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks shot and killed by some gang members tagging a wall.

The house where they lived was tagged top to bottom. Angel Rojas, 21, was said to be mentally handicapped to some degree.

I remember having a long, quite enjoyable chat with Hicks’ brother, Ruben Quintero, in the backyard of the family’s house, planted with fruit trees by their father years before.

Quintero is a literature professor at Cal State LA and had written about parody in English literature.

He’d also played football for one of SoCal’s legendary coaches, Ernie Johnson, at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, in the mid-1960s. I think the 1967 team was one of the best to ever come out of the region. Ruben told me they used to all do jumping jacks before the fourth quarter to psyche out the other team and would never accept a drink of water on the field.

As Ruben smoked a cigar by a lemon tree, we had a long talk about Aristotle, Vietnam, football and Ernie Johnson, neighborhoods, and murder.

Among the highlights:

– ON HIS FATHER:  “My father [a fruitpicker] cherished the book. He hadn’t reead a lot. But he understood that education was an important tool and he kept affirming that. he admired people like J Robert Oppenheimer.

-ON WHY HE WENT TO VIETNAM:”I wanted to become a physicist. I went to Harvey Mudd [in Claremont] for two years. Played football for Claremont Mudd. I was always among the top in math and science in school. There everybody’s bright. They have the advantage of having fathers who were chemists. Like a fool, I left and, joined the Army for two years. I was a combat veteran. Recon unit. Nobody tells you that your mind is going to get a little bit scrambled. I came back from Vietnam, went to USC. But at USC from Vietnam, I couldn’t connect. I took a thousand showers. It took a while. I became a flattened emotional creature.”

-ON WHY HIS SISTER INTERVENED: “We have lived here since 1953. That’s part of the neighborhood; that’s part of where we live. It’s not necessarily any bourgeous social sensibility that’s been cultivated. It was just very much apart of her character. My mother and father just instilled this thing where we just don’t take crap. Something is wrong, you say it’s wrong. Be honest, direct and not be afraid to stand up for things. This is a quality of life that I want to live. I want to be able to drive from my sister’s house and drive home without seeing these [jerks] putting marks on the wall. They have no right to do that: they should know not to do that. She wanted them to understand that nobody wants them to do that. So she did that. When you realize this is your house in a sense, or your home, you’re not going to allow somebody to come over and do a metaphorical urination on a wall over here.”

An interesting conversation for a reporter in search of a murder story.

1 Comment

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One Response to GANGS: Conviction in death of Pico Rivera grandmother

  1. Armando Benavidez

    I don’t know if this will be seen by you, Mr. Quinones, but I have held this in for awhile. I was chosen to be a juror on the trial against those accused of murdering Maria Hicks. As a juror, and I can only speak for myself although I feel that the others felt the same, acquitting Ms. Taffolla and Mr. Rolon left the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach. In my heart, I knew that those two played a huge part and should have paid a more steeper price, but the specifics behind the charges against them did not fit. To see the smiles on their faces, the tears from their eyes was disturbing because I knew they were only sorry for getting caught. For someone like Mrs. Hicks to stand up and fight for her community and pay the ultimate price for that fight was both inspiring and frightful. Should all those who love their hometowns feel an obligation to fight for something that many may not see but will give them a sense of righteousness only to be looked upon as someone who made an “error of judgement” because they ended up getting killed for that love? The attorney for Ms. Taffolla came to talk to the jurors following the trial to ask questions on how we came to our decisions. He also asked if we had anything to say to him or to his client. I raised my hand and I said, “all I can do is pray for your client. She has been given the second chance that absolutely NO ONE saw coming to her. A gang member accused of murder? How often is a gang member found guilty of murder and their friend/co-defendant gets to walk? I hope she learns and does something with her life.” And as I finished, tears began to fall. I felt that I was letting down Mrs. Hicks and her family. I felt that I was somehow responsible for letting a murderer walk away even though I knew I had followed the rules of the law. I cried off and on for two weeks. I went to work and went home, refusing to leave because I felt horrible about myself. I wondered every day if I did the right thing; if we as jurors, did the right thing. And no matter how many times I told myself that we did, I’d look in the mirror and tell myself that I failed. I still struggle with my decision to this day, over two years later.
    I never came face to face with Mrs. Hicks’ family; I’m sure they wouldn’t recognize me if they saw me. But if you see them again, please let them know, from the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry for the pain I helped cause by letting those who played a part in the murder of their mother/sister/aunt/grandmother/friend to walk away. I hope they can realize that we did all we could with what we were given. We wanted all of them to pay for what they did the same way Angel Rojas did. We wanted them to go away for a very long time, but the way we saw it, the law wouldn’t allow it.
    I hope they have been able to find closure in all this; I hope they found the power to move on.

    Thank You for your time.

    Humbly,
    Armando Benavidez

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