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Teardrop Tattoos Are Earned, Officer Testifies

Judge likely to decide today whether to schedule trial for double-homicide suspect.

Jaime Galdamez Guevara’s two new teardrop tattoos were one of the main subjects in his preliminary hearing in a double-homicide case in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Tuesday.

“Historically, teardrop tattoos must be earned,” Santa Cruz police Detective Joe Hernandez told the court.

“If someone is looking at time in state prison, could you expect that the tattoo is earned?” District Attorney Celia Rowland asked Hernandez.

“Yes,” he said.

The testimony was part of the second day of a hearing in which Judge William Kelsay will determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to trial. Guevara, 19, is charged with killing two men—Alejandro Nava-Gonzales, 21, and Oscar Ventura, 18—on Jan. 23, 2010, in an apartment on Canfield Street. He's charged with the attempted murder of a third man.

In addition, Guevara also faces changes of being a member of a criminal street gang. Neither of the victims were known members of gangs.

Rowland said the district attorney’s office is seeking a life sentence for Guevara. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The line of questioning about the significance of teardrop tattoos brought the ire of Guevara’s attorney, who voiced objections several times.

Hernandez told the court that a teardrop tattoo generally signifies that the wearer of the tattoo has killed someone, and therefore, two teardrops signify two killings. But, he added, teardrops can also signify time served.

The teardrops were not tattooed on Guavara when he was arrested, Hernandez had said on Monday when the district attorney asked that a photo be taken. The photo was entered into evidence Tuesday.

Outside of court, Rowland said she intends to request more photos of Guevara in case he has other new tattoos with significant meaning. Tattoos like the teardrops are a way of bragging in prisons.

Hernandez also offered testimony as a gang expert.

He told the court Guevara admitted to being a member of the MS-13 gang in the county jail, because it affects where and with whom he can be housed.

He described gangs such as MS-13 as “a living organism”—meaning the size and membership of a gang is constantly changing as people join or drop out.

But Guevara’s attorney, Carter, argued that the gang affiliation charge may not be relevant.

“Not every crime committed by a gang member is gang related?” she asked Hernandez.

She added that during the incident on Canfield Street, no gang signs were flashed and no gang affiliations were shouted.

Guevara sat through most of the hearing quietly listening to the Spanish translation. Near the lunch hour Tuesday, the defense reported Guevara was feeling ill. Carter said he had two hours of sleep the night before, had a “splitting headache” and was feeling nauseous.  A trash container was placed next to him for the remainder of the day’s session.

Kelsay is expected to rule Wednesday on whether to schedule a trial for Guevara.

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