Gang Member Convicted of First-Degree Murder in Dispute Over Graffiti

By Claudia Puig

Los Angeles Times, 7/24/87

A 19-year-old gang member who brutally killed a Burbank man to avenge the defacing of his gang's graffiti has been convicted of first-degree murder.

After deliberating six days, a Los Angeles Superior Court Jury on Wednesday found Ralph Hernandez of Burbank guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit an assault with a deadly weapon, Deputy Dist. Atty Loren Naiman said.

Hernandez was convicted of fatally shooting 20-year-old Juan Ruvalcaba outside his West Verdugo Avenue home on Dec. 28, 1985. Two other gang members, Johnny Herrera and Selso Castaneda, were each convicted of second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon and possession of illegal and dangerous weapons, Naiman said.

Graffiti Crossed Out The incident occured after graffiti scrawled on a Burbank building by members of a gang known as "BTR" were crossed out and replaced with the insignia of a rival gang, the Cypress Park Boys, Naiman said.

The action was interpreted as a symbolic challenge to the gang, Naiman said, and a half dozen BTR members vowed to "get Juan" Ruvalcaba, whom they believed to be a member of the rival gang.

BTR stands for Burbank Trece Rifa and gang members testified that the name meant "Burbank 13 rules," said Naiman, who prosecutes hard-core gang crimes. "It means 'we're No. 1' or 'we're on top' " Naiman said. (The number 13 is often used in gang names to signify a Southern California gang, Naiman said.)

The letters were crossed out and replaced with the words "CP Boys" and "Rankers," Naiman said. "Rankers is a challenge meaning 'you're wimps,' " he said. "It signifies somebody who will not stand up and defend their neighborhood. BTR accepted the challenge."

Shot, Tortured

Hernandez used a .22-caliber revolver and shot Ruvalcaba as he sat talking to a friend by a fire hydrant outside his house, Naiman said. Ruvalcaba was shot in the head, the thigh and the testicles, Naiman said.

The other men had fashioned four-foot long stakes with several rows of crossbars and a handle at the end and used them to beat Ruvalcaba, Naiman said.

Hernandez then shot at Ruvalcaba's friend, Heriberto Sanchez Esparza, who escaped without injury, Naiman said.

Burbank police arrested Ruvalcaba, Herrera and Castaneda and three others, who are juveniles, within three days of the murder. Two of the men pleaded guilty to the murder and are serving sentences in California Youth Authority custody, Naiman said. The trial of the sixth man is to begin in August.

Violent Gang Loses Leaders, Identity

By Claudia Puig

Los Angeles Times, 12/5/87

The sentencing of a teen-ager Friday to 38 years to life in state prison for murder marked the final chapter for a Burbank gang that had been involved in violence and vandalism for more than 15 years, authorities said.

“For years and years, these guys were involved in gang-related homicides, drive-by shootings, assaults, drug-related offenses - almost like a legacy handed down from more senior members to more junior members,” Burbank Police Detective Edward B. Skvarna said of a gang known as Burbank Trece (13 in Spanish), or BTR.

But today the gang is all but nonexistent, he said, because the arrests of Ralph Hernandez and five other gang members “left a void in their leadership ranks.”

Hernandez was convicted in July by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury of the first-degree murder of Juan Ruvalcaba, a member of a rival gang, outside his Burbank home on Dec. 28, 1985. Hernandez was also convicted of the attempted murder of Ruvalcaba’s companion, Heriberto Sanchez Esparza. In addition, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon, said Deputy District Attorney Loren M. Naiman.

Hernandez shot 20-year-old Ruvalcaba with a .22-caliber revolver as he sat talking to a friend outside his West Verdugo Avenue house, Naiman said. Hernandez initially shot Ruvalcaba in the head, then in the thigh and testicles, he said. Once Ruvalcaba was down, Hernandez and the other men began beating him with 4-foot-long steel weapons with spikes, Naiman said.

Hernandez also shot at Esparza, who escaped without injury.

Within three days of the incident, the six, considered leaders of the gang, were arrested. All but one have been sentenced, Skvarna said. The sixth is to go on trial in January.

“We got the six most active and violent members in one place at one time committing one crime,” Skvarna said. “They made it convenient for us to arrest them all and the gang ceased to operate.”

Most Visible Gang

Skvarna said Burbank Trece had been the most visible gang in Burbank, with its numbers swelling at times to about 50 members ranging in age from 14 to 21.

Most of the remaining gang members “have grown up, gotten jobs, moved out of the area or are in prison,” he said.

“There are younger brothers of these members that still claim that gang,” Skvarna said. “But as far as concerted acts of gang violence, they’ve been few and far between.”

Skvarna said his belief that the gang had died out was confirmed recently when a 19-year-old Burbank Trece gang member told him that he wanted to leave the gang, but couldn’t find enough other members to “jump him out,” a practice in which at least three gang members surround a member who wants to leave and beat him.

The detective said he believed that Hernandez, who was 17 at the time of the slaying, was trying to “make a name for himself with the group.”

The incident occurred after graffiti scrawled on a Burbank building by Trece members was crossed out and replaced with the insignia of a rival gang from Cypress Park in northeast Los Angeles, Naiman said. The action was interpreted as a symbolic challenge to the gang, and the six Burbank Trece members arrested vowed to “get Lil Juan” Ruvalcaba, a member of the rival gang, a probation report said.

Hernandez, who remained impassive during his sentencing and smiled after the verdict was read, was labeled a psychopath in court-ordered reports, Naiman said.

Superior Court Judge David A. Horowitz characterized Hernandez as “a very dangerous person who should be watched closely for the rest of his life.”

Horowitz told the 19-year-old: “It concerns me that you show absolutely no remorse for what you did. What you did, I believe, was a cold-blooded, despicable series of crimes and you show no emotion one way or the other.”

During the trial, Hernandez had claimed that he killed Ruvalcaba out of revenge. He maintained that a large scar on his forehead was due to a blow from a baseball bat wielded by Ruvalcaba several years before.

Richard Leonard, Hernandez’s attorney, said his client’s sentence was “appropriate. If you don’t go to school and you don’t get a job and you hang around with gang members and smoke dope, this is what happens,” Leonard said.

The Burbank Trece Rifa page on the website is here.

The Burbank Hispanic Gangs page on that website is here

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