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.