Friday, March 4, 2005

Santos member of local gang

Gangs not unheard of in Wood River Valley

Express Staff Writer

Bruno Santos Dominguez, the boyfriend of a Bellevue teenager accursed of murdering her parents two years ago, may have a history of violence, drug use and gang membership in the Wood River Valley.

Defense attorneys for Sarah Johnson, 18, painted Santos Dominguez as a villain who may have had the means and connections to arrange the killings of Alan and Diane Johnson on Sept. 2, 2003. He is an illegal alien who now stands trial in Blaine County for drug possession.

The majority of the evidence brought out in court on Thursday, however, was in the absence of the jury. Fifth District Judge Barry Wood ruled that only testimony about Santos Dominguez's gang relations was admissible in front of the panel of 18 Ada County residents.

But Santos Dominguez's failed high school drug test, in which he tested positive for cocaine, was an indicator of his connections with nefarious people, said defense attorney Mark Rader.

"It's something you have to get from south of the border," Rader said. "Somehow you have to know people who know people who know people, and that's what gangs are all about."

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas countered.

"Judge, you can go to any bar in this town, any bar in Hailey, and get cocaine. It doesn't necessarily have to be a Mexican Mafia connection to get it," he said. "To say because of two fights, one drug charge, that he called up these killers, that's a stretch. I would ask the court to deny any testimony that would bring out any of these items we're talking about."

In the presence of the jury, defense attorneys called Wood River High School Vice Principle Ron Martinez, who testified that Santos Dominguez was affiliated with a gang called "Southside 13." Santos Dominguez hung around school with people believed to be in the gang, Martinez said.

The members wore blue bandanas on their belts or in their back pockets, he added.

School officials only saw those items outside the school, "unless they were brave enough to wear them in school, and then we would confiscate them," Martinez said. Gang members would also periodically wear the number 13 on jewelry or their clothing.

Santos Dominguez was expelled from Wood River High School in 2002 and did not return in 2003, Martinez said, adding that Santos Dominguez continued to hang out with some of the people understood to be in the gang.

Martinez qualified his testimony, saying that he is "absolutely not a gang expert."

Several police officers who testified earlier in the trial have said there is no significant gang activity in the Wood River Valley.

However, the Hailey Police Department's school resource officer confirmed there is some minor gang activity.

"It's nothing real major," said Steve England, who has not testified at the trial.

England confirmed that there is a gang called Southside 13. The 13 represents the 13th letter of the alphabet, "M," which represents the first letter in Mexico. Another gang calls itself Northday 14, England said. The 14 represents the 14th letter of the alphabet "N," which represents the first letter in north.

The aforementioned gangs are predominately composed of Hispanic kids, but Caucasian teens have formed gangs in the Wood River Valley, too, England said. One he remembered was called Sk8erboys.

"I don't think we have a serious problem, but there is stuff that goes on outside the schools," England said. "It's nothing that really gets reported to us, where we need to form a gang unit or anything like that."

England said the worst gang-related event in the Wood River Valley happened about four years ago when 11 members of Southside 13 beat up a boy in the locker room at Wood River High School. As the boy was being beat up, Santos Dominguez acted as a lookout to watch for anyone who might discover the fight.

Judge Wood did not allow information about the fight to be admitted in front of the jury.

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