Program Note: Five years ago we reported on gang violence in the Los Angeles community of Hollenbeck. This week, all week, we follow up on the neighborhood. Through the eyes of cops, criminals and crusaders, we witness the corrosive effects of violence and what's being done to prevent it. We take you inside the investigations of homicides as they unfold in a community where 30 percent of all killings remain unsolved. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/10/ayala.jpg caption=" Gang member Gabriel Ayala was killed in October 2004. Police believe Ayala was killed by a member of his own gang."]
Los Angeles Police Detective Dewaine Field has solved dozens of gang-related murders in his thirty year law enforcement career. As supervisor of the gang unit in Hollenbeck, part of his job is breaking the code of silence and persuading informants to come forward. Fields says breaking that code in a gang-related murder is one of the most difficult challenges of solving a murder case.
In Hollenbeck, nearly thirty percent of the gang-related killings go unsolved because witnesses or informants refuse to talk. Even the perception of breaking the gang code of silence within a gang can result in death, says Fields.
The unsolved murder of gang member Gabriel Ayala is the type of case detective Fields is referring to. On October 16, 2004, Ayala was shot in the head at close range just moments before CNN cameras arrived in his Hollenbeck neighborhood. Fields says he knew Ayala well and used to serve warrants at Ayala's residence. "Gabriel's time was coming, he was too active, he played too hard trying to be too tough in his gang and it caught up to him," said Fields.
When Fields first examined the crime scene, he told homicide detectives it looked like an inside job. "Gabriel had a gun in his waist and never pulled it out and that tells me that he knew whoever killed him." Fields believes the events leading up to Ayala's execution began long ago.
Two years before Ayala was killed, a rival gang member, Francisco Sanchez was approached by two gunmen on a Hollenbeck area street. According to court records, the first suspect shot Sanchez multiple times. As Sanchez fell to the ground, a second suspect approached him and shot Sanchez again, records show.
Authorities suspect the murder of Sanchez was in retaliation for the killing of a rival two days earlier.
Gabriel Ayala was one of the suspected shooters charged with killing Sanchez but the case against him was dismissed. "It was a mistrial," said Fields. "His co-defendant from the same gang, the guy that was involved in the murder with him, was held on a separate charge so he was in custody and Gabriel got released."
Ayala's co-defendant, a member of the same gang, was prosecuted and convicted of first degree murder.
So what did his gang think?" said Fields. "Thought he'd throw a rat, thought he'd talked. They considered him a snitch and Gabriel hadn't told us anything," he said. "They killed him for nothing. He didn't tell us anything and his cohort was later convicted for that murder, as would have been if Ayala had survived."
Six years after his death, Ayala's murder remains unsolved and Fields is still looking for that informant to talk. In the tug of war, between gang rivalry and gang loyalty, Ayala became a victim of both. Fields says it's one of the most difficult murders to solve because it's a suspected inside hit. The detective needs someone inside Ayala's gang to talk, someone who has a reason to say everything he knows about who killed Gabriel Ayala.
"There are people in that gang that know who did it and why they did it", said Fields. "But for someone from his gang to tell me that a fellow gang member killed him? That's gonna be a tough one," he said.
Though, the detective admits if one of them is arrested for something else it could help him. "That's what I can hope for," Fields told Anderson Cooper. "You'll be waiting for em," asked Anderson. "I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere," replied Fields.
Filed under: Homicide in Hollenbeck
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