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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.
Gangs

The Best Argument Against the Death Penalty

Former Mexican Mafia leader Ramon "Mundo" Mendoza proves that redemption is possible.

July 14, 2011  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Photo: Richard Valdemar.
Photo: Richard Valdemar.

"To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison,
and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." — Isaiah 42:7

One-time Mexican Mafia member Ramon "Mundo" Mendoza and I believe in capital punishment. His past murderous criminal life was one of the best arguments for the death penalty. As a member of his elite "gang of gangs," he and other members continued to snatch the lives of victims like ravenous sharks.

Being caged by the California Department of Corrections didn't stop them from ordering murders.

In those days, I would have volunteered personally to pull the lever in the San Quentin's death chamber. I would have dropped the Cyanide tablets into the acid vat in that green room to send "Mundo" Mendoza into eternity. And on his part, I am sure that he would not have hesitated to snuff out my life if I had become a problem to him or his carnales in the Mexican Mafia. That was then, and this is now.

Nobody begins life as a monster. Ramon, who was born Oct. 18, 1949, started out as a good kid growing up in Los Angeles in the parish of Our Lady of Resurrection near Eighth and Lorena streets in Boyle Heights. He was once an altar boy there. Because part of this area was also a "no man's land" between the notorious White Fence gang and the Varrio Nuevo Estrada (VNE) gang, little Ramon grew up with friends who became members of these gangs.

Ramon also had an unhappy relationship with his stepfather at home. These two factors would combine in Ramon's life to spawn his criminal career.

Ramon's first brush with the law came, after he ran away from home and was caught joyriding a stolen car. After being jumped by members of the White Fence gang, Ramon's vendetta and retribution would send him to prison hell.

In many ways, Ramon Mendoza's life to this point mirrored the lives of many troubled young men and women of this time in Los Angeles. Mundo also excelled as a state-raised pupil in the school of hard knocks in the California Youth Authority. He chose his friends wisely based on his desire to survive this pitiless environment, and soon earned his way into the adult prison at San Quentin, as one of its youngest inmates.

Mundo had learned to ask for and give no quarter, which drew him the attention of the newly spawned prison gang — the Mexican Mafia.

His Mexican Mafia sponsors and godfathers were Manuel "Mad Korean" Enerva and "Big Mike" Mulhern, who brought him into La EME in September of 1970. He was not just another gangster thug; he was a predator among predators. Mundo de la EME left a trail of blood and mayhem wherever he went.

The Mexican Mafia prison gang has no formal hierarchy or rank structure, but if they did Mundo Mendoza would have been considered one of their leaders. He was a close associate of notorious de facto leaders Joe "Cololiso" Morgan, Robert "Robot" Salas, Rodolfo "Cheyenne" Cadena, Adolph "Champ" Reynosa, Alfred "Alfie" Sosa, Ruben "Rube" Soto and EME founder Louis "Huero-Buff" Flores. These EME killers ran with their allies from the Aryan Brotherhood and warred with the Nuestra Familia and their allies, the Black Guerilla Family.

Despite this prison history, Ramon Mendoza was released from prison on July 25, 1975, when the indeterminate sentencing law was reversed. Numerous career criminals in prison gangs were released from California prisons into our unsuspecting communities during this time. The Mexican Mafia utilized this surge of EME soldiers to secure the EME's power and control outside the prison walls.

Mundo Mendoza and fellow EME carnal and VNE gang member Edward "Sailor Boy" Gonzalez began immediately terrorizing Los Angeles drug dealers and spreading the gospel of the Mexican Mafia. On a self-appointed mission of vendetta, Sailor Boy and Mundo journeyed up to Bakersfield to visit two Nuestra Familia drug dealers. Danny "Woodsey" Reyes and his brother Ronald had been targeted by the Mexican Mafia. Mundo and Sailor killed the Reyes brothers but got caught by the police trying to return to Los Angeles.

While in the Kern County Jail, Mundo and Sailor faced what seemed like a slam-dunk double murder case. They were looking with pride to return home to San Quentin, but this time to Death Row. But on Jan. 13, 1977, the presiding judge of Kern ruled to release the two EME hit men based on a motion for a speedy trial filed by their defense attorney.

During their Kern County jail-house stay, Mundo had been prayed over by visiting evangelists. He believes something unexpected happened to his soul. For the first time in his life, he felt remorse and empathy for his many victims. This was not the phony jail-house conversion played out by some crooks in an attempt to escape punishment or to fool the parole board. A technicality had already set Mundo free to return to his profane and self-destructive path. He chose the path of conversion and redemption, and it would not be easy.

Mundo requested a meeting with his former enemies in law enforcement, and began working undercover against his former carnales in the Mexican Mafia. As perilous as his occupation as a Mexican Mafia hit man was, working for law enforcement brought even more danger. Most cops instinctively distrusted him. Eventually, he would win them over by producing criminal intelligence leading to the arrests of many EME members.

In the movie "American Me" (1992), Mundo's character is one of the central figures. Even after his defection, the movie's Mexican Mafia technical advisors, Manuel "Rocky" Luna and Charlie "Charlie Brown" Manriquez, included depictions of Mundo's character in the movie.

Ramon Mendoza would eventually become a protected witness under the U.S. Marshals' witness protection program. Being given a new identity and living in a different city was not the end of Mundo's story. He continued to help law enforcement for many years, and is now a changed man.

Former Mexican Mafia leader Ramon "Mundo" Mendoza's motivation for writing, "Mexican Mafia: The Gang of Gangs," is to get the book into the hands of gang members and inmates in the hope that it might prevent them from following in his footsteps. His intent is to break the negative brainwashing the prison gangs utilize and illuminate the path to redemption.

Over the years that we've known each other, Ramon has allowed me to see his manuscript grow and evolve into this book, published by Police and Fire Publishing.

As in St. Augustine's classic memoir "Confessions," Mundo's story is one of how a degenerate life can be redeemed. And like Saint Augustine's mother Monica, Ramon's mother sieged the gates of Heaven for many years with her prayers for her wayward son. It is these pleas and petitions I believe that would finally bring Ramon spiritual conviction, reconciliation and redemption. Ramon Mendoza's book is dedicated to his mother.

Related:

Mexican Mafia: The Most Dangerous Gang

Mexican Mafia: Prison Debrief (video)

Tags: Mexican Mafia, Books for Cops, Criminal Informants, Prison Gangs


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Morning Eagle @ 7/14/2011 11:38 PM

I read the whole article watching for a good argument for banning the death penalty presuming the author meant a total ban. I couldn't find it. The case of this individual is an exceptional one and hopefully his book will accomplish his goal. If he was the rule rather than the exception perhaps I could see the point. But the cold facts are that very few experience such a reversal and find some sense of conscience. The only regret most of them have is that they got caught and something like eighty-four percent return to a life of criminal action if they ever do get out. Many are willing to kill anyone that gets in their way including police officers in order to stay out of prison. Supporting them for life on the taxpayers' dollar in the hope they will someday renounce their former life style is not justifiable. There are some that are so thoroughly corrupt and devoid of any sense of morality or decency that they should not be allowed to continue using oxygen.

ron martinelli @ 7/15/2011 8:08 AM

I was a gang investigator for many years and put many like Mundo Mendoza into state prison. The "veteranos" who repeatedly murder and encourage others to murder to advance the gang agenda deserve nothing less than the death penalty. Rather than making an argument against the death penalty, Mundo's writings at least from this article actually confirms my opinion that we should have a final resolution of justice. A judge letting he and his partner off of a double homicide on a legal technicality...really? CA's "death penalty does not deter because it isn't enforced. If we had Death Penalty Courts that allowed a maximum of two years for final appeals before putting convicted killers to death we would see a drastic change in the "killer attitude" se currently experience. Even though Mundo eventually found God, how many people did he ultimately sacrifice to find his "salvation?"

Tom @ 7/15/2011 8:23 AM

Our system has become anything but swift and sure. Too many excuses are made for these killers in my view. If they commit the crime they should pay the price irrespective of them turning to God for redemption.
We are not to judge their souls but society must have sure and just punishment to have credibility.

R. G. Montgomery @ 7/15/2011 7:44 PM

Redemption is a very real event.

I note in this account the hand of God protecting Mr. Mendoza against the day of redemption. I'm glad Mr. Mendoza has changed and is now my brother in Christ. Excellent testimony to the power of God.

Just as certainly, the Bible still teaches capital punishment for certain crimes.

Which is not at all to say the legal system in the United States - especially the People's Democratic Socialist Republic of California - is run properly or fairly. But that's another discussion.

Sandy @ 7/26/2011 1:34 PM

Excellent article. It is always refreshing to know that there is indeed light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In the gang world, which many consider utter hopelessness, the regeneration of such an evil life is an excellent ending. Thanks for sharing.

Tschako @ 8/26/2011 12:25 AM

This very rare "conversion" in no way is an argument against the death penalty. Regardless, the people Mendoza killed are still dead. He is still responsible for his past behavior. The "miracle" often reverses itself just as frequently. As a California Parole Agent, I see this all too often.

Judge and Jury @ 8/29/2011 2:06 AM

Absolutely not an argument against the death penalty ("Render unto Ceasar .....") but a very rare story of redemption. I attended a conference in which Mendoza spoke and the officers who attended came away with an excellent insight into the mind of the "hard core" criminal. Excellent articles, Mr. Valdemar.

LA Lawman @ 8/31/2011 2:36 AM



It appears that Mr. Mendoza is the exception rather than the rule. As for CA's death penalty being enforced in order to "deter" the "killer attitude", that doesn't fly either. Texas is a great example. They routinely enforce the death penalty in that state and Texas gang problems take back seat to no other state except possibly California. In my opinion, the death penalty will never deter these demented individuals from conducting their campaigns of homicide because these individuals don't consider consequences for their actions. So, with this in mind, let's call a spade a spade. We should enforce the death penalty because, as Mr. Martinelli states, it is a "final resolution of justice". "Render unto Caesar ......"

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