Gang members seen in beating outside Fresno's Crossroads bar to get probation

The Fresno BeeMay 27, 2014 

A Fresno gang whose members were caught on video tape severely beating two men outside the Crossroads nightclub in March will get felony probation for the assault, their lawyers said Tuesday.

Apolonio Martinez, Daniel Martin Telles, Christopher Martinez Jr. and his father, Christopher Martinez Sr., pleaded no contest last week in Fresno County Superior Court to assault likely to commit great bodily injury. In addition, Martinez Jr. pleaded no contest to possession of drugs and his father pleaded no contest to possession of a firearm by a felon.

In exchange for their pleas, prosecutors dismissed a second assault charge against all four defendants and dismissed a felony drug charge against Apolonio Martinez and Martinez Jr., and a felony ammunition charge against Telles and Martinez Sr., the documents show.

Apolonio Martinez, 40, Telles, 25, Martinez Jr., 21, and Martinez Sr., 42, are free on bail. They accepted the "packaged plea deal" because they were promised no time in state prison when they are sentenced on July 7, said defense lawyers Michael Aed and Antonio Alvarez.

At a news conference in April, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer described the beaten men as innocent victims of the Malos Hechos motorcycle gang, a name that translates roughly to "made bad," or "born bad" or "bad deeds" in Spanish.

A crucial piece of evidence that led to the arrests of the four defendants was a graphic video of the March 7 beating that was posted on Facebook, reportedly by a gang member, Dyer said. In the video, one of the suspects is seen violently kicking a man who is curled up on the asphalt.

One victim had a large gash on his head from the beating, but both of the men have since recovered, police said.

At the news conference, Dyer also came off strong against Crossroads, saying it's become a hangout for gang members.

Just last week, Fresno gang member Craig Lamar Foster was arraigned on charges of murder and attempted murder in the March 23 slaying of Fresno resident Janae Tatum, who was shot in the head, and the wounding of her husband, Herman Tatum, at the Crossroads nightclub at Shields and Cedar avenues in east-central Fresno.

Officials with the District Attorney's Office could not be reached immediately to comment about the Malos Hechos plea agreement.

District Attorney Elizabeth Egan has made opposition to plea deals an issue in her reelection campaign against challenger Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp.

But Aed, who represents Martinez Jr., and Alvarez, who represents Martinez Sr., said Tuesday that the prosecution negotiated the plea deal because of evidentiary problems with the case.

According to the defense lawyers, one of the victims started the fight by hitting on a woman who was with Apolonio Martinez. The victim then threw the first blow, punching Martinez in the face, the lawyers said.

"We could have argued mutual combat," Aed said. "The video was a small segment of what really happened that night, and frankly it put our clients in a bad light."

In addition, the defendants are not in a motorcycle gang, their lawyers said. All of them except for Apolonio Martinez have ties to the Bulldogs street gang, they said. Apolonio Martinez is not in a gang.

In accepting the plea agreement, Telles, Martinez Jr. and Martinez Sr. pleaded to misdemeanor assault -- a charge that was elevated to a felony because of their gang ties. Apolonio Martinez pleaded to a felony assault.

"There was a risk going to trial," Aed said, noting that if the defendants had been convicted by a jury, they could have faced at least 10 years in prison.

"This was a classic compromise," said Alvarez. "Probation is a pretty decent deal."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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