Pico Rivera man faces life in prison for 2006 crime spree
On a warm spring night, Jorge Suazo and Veronica Banuelos decided to walk to a local Big 5 Sporting Goods store.
The couple never made it.
A local gang member, Mark Angelo Santa Anna, got out of a car and asked Suazo, “Where are you from?” The 29-year-old denied being in a gang, pushed his girlfriend and yelled for her to run.
Santa Anna fatally shot Suazo and wounded Banuelos.
The April 20, 2006 killing on Durfee Avenue heralded the beginning of a nearly three-month crime spree for Santa Anna. Detectives said he was intent on enhancing his reputation in the Pico Nuevo gang by killing, shooting, robbing and beating innocent people.
By the time the violence ended on July 8, 2006, there would be eight victims.
Now the 26-year-old Santa Anna faces spending the rest of his life in prison after a jury convicted him on Oct. 27 of first-degree murder, two attempted murders, a home invasion robbery, two robberies, an attempted robbery, two assaults with a firearm, burglary and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon with prior convictions.
The jury also agreed that all the crimes were done for the benefit of a gang. The Pico Rivera man will be sentenced Dec. 8 at Norwalk Superior Court.
“He’s just as violent as they come. He brutalized innocent people and tried to give the impression all this is for the gang,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun McCarthy, who investigated Suazo’s killing.
“I actually think Santa Anna knew at some point he would get caught but wanted to do as much as he could. He went on a one-man crime spree.”
Deputy District Attorney Mike Enomoto, who prosecuted the case, said Santa Anna would brag about “patrolling the varrio with a gun.”
“He said himself he was on a rampage. It’s about building his reputation as a gang member and building the reputation of the gang,” Enomoto said.
He said Santa Anna faces serving, at the minimum, six consecutive life terms.
Santa Anna’s lawyer, John McDonald, declined comment on the case.
Enomoto said the evidence clearly showed Santa Anna was committing crimes to impress other gang members and to increase the status of the gang by making it more feared.
In the gang world, experts say a gang member builds his reputation by his violent deeds. Violence is the rung to the ladder of gang success and Santa Anna wanted to climb that ladder.
“He was trying to show the older guys in the gang that he was putting in work for the neighborhood. That was his whole motive,” McCarthy said. “He bragged how he was setting an example for the younger gangsters.”
The Pico Rivera man was reportedly using methamphetamine during his crime spree but McCarthy said that’s no excuse.
Santa Anna’s take in the July 8, 2006 robbery of two young men on Pico Vista Road amounted to a bag of opened pretzels, car keys and a pack of cigarettes.
Sheriff’s Detective Hank Ortega said Santa Anna, accompanied by two other gang members, demanded a cigarette from one of the men who was smoking.
When the man kind of pulls back, Ortega said Santa Anna patted the man down, checked his pockets then pistol-whipped him. He also pistol-whipped the man’s friend. Both required stitches. Santa Anna shot at them when he left.
“In my opinion, it was a show of force. They do it to enhance reputation and to enhance the reputation of the gang,” Ortega said.
Santa Anna and his cohorts then headed to Townley Drive where they did a home invasion robbery of a woman in her 40s. They took her cell phone although they originally demanded her car keys.
“I guess she didn’t produce it right away so Santa Anna proceeds to pistol-whip her,” Ortega said.
One of the gang members held her arms back while Santa Anna was beating her. He told Santa Anna to stop.
The woman went to the hospital with both eyes blackened, bruising to her face and she also needed stitches.
The three robbery victims declined to be interviewed for the story.
McCarthy said Santa Anna preyed on people who were clearly not gang members. Only one of the eight victims was a gang member.
A Puente 13 gang member was riding a bicycle in the 4900 block of Passons Boulevard when Santa Anna shot him in the head on May 25, 2006. He survived.
While he was in custody, McCarthy said Santa Anna bragged about the attempted killing to another gang member.