Marked for Death: Where do journalists find the guts to keep telling the truth in places where truth-telling will get them murdered? Clear: Marked for Death quantity. Aka Murder Without Borders “The Cost of Sharing the Truth” – “Fantastic”. The Killing Pages. Just how safe am I? These will be the five words that will haunt you after reading The Killing Pages, a horrifying look into the disturbed consciousness of a methodical serial killer.
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Federal jurors considering the first homicide at the nation’s highest-security prison were told Tuesday about a gang-leader feud that resulted in a vicious prison-yard beating.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented opening statements Tuesday in the first-degree-murder case against Silvestre “Chikali” Rivera, who is accused of fatally stomping and beating Mexican Mafia prison gang leader Manuel “Tati” Torrez, 64, on April 21, 2005.
Rivera and accomplice Richard “Chuco” Santiago are accused of killing Torrez in a caged exercise yard at Administrative Maximum U.S. Penitentiary, or ADX, in Florence.
In her opening, prosecutor Valeria Spencer immediately showed jurors video of the assault, in which Rivera and Santiago, a “shot-caller” from the prison gang, beat him without retaliation for several minutes.
“You can see Mr. Santiago and Mr. Rivera pummeling Mr. Torrez,” Spencer said. “The deed is done but not all the way. They step out and go back in. They step out and go back in.”
Santiago returns alone and delivers seven kicks to the head and one to the chest as Torrez lies, unmoving, on the concrete ground.
Torrez, who was ill, had 18 broken ribs and a cracked skull. His eyes were swollen shut and his left ear was so swollen that it didn’t appear to be an ear, Spencer said.
In court Tuesday, Rivera looked more like a grandfatherly businessman with carefully feathered salt-and-pepper gray hair and a well-manicured mustache than a convicted bank robber and associate of the Mexican Mafia, one of the most violent prison gangs in the U.S. He wore a black-and-white-checkered dress shirt and gray slacks.
A photograph taken in prison showed a bald-headed Rivera emblazoned with gang tattoos on his bare chest and a mustache swooping down his chin from the corners of his mouth.
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Spencer showed several scenes of Rivera circulating through the yard speaking with several other men.
But defense attorney Kathryn Stimson said Rivera and Santiago acted only after Torrez, a shot-caller for the most violent gang in the history of the U.S., told them they were marked for death.
She promised that witnesses, including a Mexican Mafia hit man, will testify that Torrez ordered a hit on Rivera.
“When you get an order to kill from a shot caller, you carry it out or you will be killed yourself,” Stimson said. “They are kept in the Alcatraz of the Rockies. … There are no idle threats in prison.”
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She characterized Torrez as a man who once ordered a hit on an entire neighborhood, including women and children, after people in the neighborhood refused to follow one of his orders.
“Mr. Rivera knew that if Mr. Torrez wants you dead, you are dead,” Stimson said. “These men were acting to defend their lives. In this culture of kill-or-be-killed, there was no other option.”
It took a day and a half to select the jury of nine men and three women, including a woman who voiced concern that the case could “kind of stain your soul.” Two alternate jurors also were selected.
“You are going to hear testimony from witnesses who are professional killers who kill on the command of the gang,” defense attorney David Lane warned the jury, which some members felt skittish about serving on. “You are going to see graphic stuff in this trial. You will see videotapes where the defendant and an accomplice stomp a man to death.”
One juror asked whether his safety was in peril.
“Our security protocol is robust and comprehensive both inside and outside of court,” said District Judge Robert Blackburn, wearing a bow tie, as is his custom, and speaking slowly and concisely. “Without trying to sound immodest, our security record is impeccable.”
As a safety precaution, jurors were identified by four-digit numbers and their initials only.
Blackburn carefully explained that the jury would determine only Rivera’s guilt or innocence and that Blackburn alone would determine the sentence. Rivera faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Santiago faces a possible death sentence.
Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206, [email protected] or twitter.com/kirkmitchell