1970 — The defense of "Los Siete de la Raza" in San Francisco

 

The killing of Joe Brodnik and the wounding of Paul McGoran 

 

In May, 1969, six young immigrant Central American men living in San Francisco's Mission District were arrested and charged with murder.  A seventh, George (Gio) Lopez, was sought but never apprehended,  Five were held in the San Francisco City Jail:  Nelson Rodriguez, Danilo Melendez, Jose Rios, Rudolfo Martinez and his brother Jose Mario Martinez.  A sixth, Gary Lescallett, was held in the County Jail.  The six men on trial were charged with the murder of policeman Joe Brodnik and the shooting of Paul McGoran.  The two men shot were plainclothes San Francisco Police Department Policemen who apparently observed several Latino youth moving a TV into someone's home on Alvarado Street in the Mission District on May 1, 1969.  The police apparently thought the TV had been stolen.  A struggle ensued and Brodnik was fatally shot with McGoran's gun.  Four young men ran off and were later arrested, along with another two Latino men who had not been at the scene of the shooting.

Los Siete Defense Committee and the La Raza Information Center

 

A "Los Siete Defense Committee" was soon organized in the Mission District community where the defendants lived, and the Black Panther's lawyer, Charles Garry agreed to defend them.  The "La Raza Information Center" began operating in the summer of 1970 in the vacant storefront next to the Defense Committee's office.  The Information Center was running many programs, including "Centro de Salud," a free breakfast program and a community newspaper, but its main focus was supporting the activities of the Los Siete Defense Committee.  The trial itself turned into a fiasco , as the prosecution could not produce any concrete evidence implicating the defendants in the shootings.  There were no witnesses to the shooting.  The defense argued the possibility that McGoran accidentally drew his gun during the fracas and fatally shot his unarmed partner. All of the defendants were acquitted.

 

The Los Siete defendants were glamorized by the left

 

The murder trial of six Central American young men from the Mission district captured the attention of Bay Area radicals.  The case was promoted by the left into a cause celebre.  A "good vs. evil" narrative covering all of the defendants and the San Francisco Police Department was created by Los Siete supporters in which the Los Siete were portrayed as seven innocent Latino students who had been brutalized and  framed by racist police.  This narrative was further hyped by the grandiose name granted to the group of defendants:  "Los Siete de la Raza" (The Seven of the People). 

 

These young men clearly needed and  deserved a the good legal defense that they received,, but the left's uncritical glorification of all of the defendants did not match the reality of who they were.  A 1999 SFGate article I found online states that some of the Los Siete defendants had been attending college preparedness sessions at the College of San Mateo prior to their arrests, while others had allegedly been involved in robbery and auto theft.     

 

New charges

 

In December, 1970, a month after their acquittal, four members of Los Siete appeared at the San Mateo County Courthouse to enter pleas on charges of auto theft and armed robbery, crimes allegedly committed in May 1969 at Pescadero State Beach in San Mateo County.  Two other Los Siete defendants, Jose Rios and Nelson Rodriguez were arrested separately in San Francisco, also charged with auto theft and armed robbery in San Mateo County.  In addition they were charged with possession of LSD and marijuana.

 

Postscript

 

According to Oscar Rios, brother of defendant Jose Rios, several of the Los Siete became "disillusioned" after their acquittal, when they went from being political heroes to joining the ranks of the unemployed, forever marked as cop-killer suspects.  I found no evidence that the left or the Los Siete Defense Committee offered help to the defendants after "victory" had been achieved (the acquittal).

SFGate said in the 1999 article that, as of its writing, police records showed no evidence that the Martinez brothers had any further brushes with the law. Their location, however, was unknown.  Jose Rios was then working in the Bay Area as a mechanic and painter, his brother said. Rios was unavailable for comment.  In 1999 Nelson Rodriguez lived in the Lake Tahoe area.  George (Gio) Lopez had been charged but never apprehended.  He hijacked a plane to Cuba and was later believed to have returned to his native El Salvador.

 

At the time of the article, Gary Lescallet was serving a life sentence, with no possibility of parole, at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento. He was convicted in the 1979 kidnap and murder of Edith Jackson, an elderly retired schoolteacher. Lescallet maintained during his  trial that he had no involvement in Jackson's death.  Danilo Melendez was stabbed to death at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy in 1977, while serving time for first-degree robbery.  

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Five of the defendants were allowed out of their cells to confer with their attorney, Charles Garry, and to be photographed by me for the People's World newspaper

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Nelson Rodriguez

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Rodolfo Martinez

Danilo Melendez

Jose Mario Martinez

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Jose Rios

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Los Siete defense attorney Charles Garry, the "go-to" attorney for people of color in major crimiinal cases that attracted left-wing attention and organized support

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Charles Garry being interviewed for local news radio.  He was articulate, feisty and well-prepared.

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Charles Garry was well-known, respected and a celebrity with the mass media and the left and its media.

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Supporters filling a court elevator.

Los Siete were supported by the Black Panther Party.  Here the Panther newspaper is being sold outside the courtroom.

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Supporters waiting to get into the Los Siete trial courtroom.

Members of the black community, no strangers to police brutality, provided support in the courtroom audience.

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Overflow crowd at the courtroom door.