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Slaying case puts focus on gang violence
Judge sentences Villanueva to 25 years

The man accused with the gang-related killing of Daniel Adame last June pleaded guilty to causing his death during a bloody, five-minute feud between rivals.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason J. Deal sentenced Juan Villanueva to 25 years (10 in prison, 15 on probation) for crimes related to his driving the van that struck and killed Adame in the Lenox Park Apartments parking lot on June 13, 2010.

Villanueva admitted to vehicular homicide caused by reckless driving, serious injury by vehicle, hit-and-run and fighting as part of a criminal street gang.

"Violence and danger goes hand in hand with being involved in gangs. Death and serious injury is all too frequent, and usually only because the victims and the participants are wearing the wrong colors or encroaching upon the wrong neighborhood," Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said.

"The tragedy of the case hopefully will provide some small incentive for the young people involved in gangs to find something to do that's productive for society and themselves, rather than so senselessly harmful and destructive."

Villanueva, whose case was scheduled for trial next week, is one of the last remaining defendants in the case.

A grand jury accused eight other men of fighting that night as members of the criminal street gangs known as SUR 13, BOE 23 and La Onda.

A jury found Eliborio Andrade guilty in November. He is appealing the conviction. Wilson O. Almendares pleaded guilty in October; Jose E. Martinez joined him in December. They, along with Villanueva, were allied members of BOE 23 and La Onda.

Juan Acosta, accused of being a SUR 13 member, withdrew his guilty plea on March 30 and re-entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental incompetence to stand trial, court records show.

His withdrawal was filed the same month that his brother, Fernando Acosta, and Juan Pablo Hurtado were found not guilty of affray charges on March 11. They also were accused of being members of SUR 13.

Their five-day trial revealed details about Adame's death as well as the reality of such confrontations.

Tensions were high, Almendares had testified. He sensed opposing gang members had tested him twice in the hours and day before, which led to his gathering support for a physical retaliation, he said.

When the sides collided in the parking lot around 5 a.m., Adame was among those to jump out of the cars gathered.
He traded verbal barbs, witnesses said, and joined others in throwing "gang signs," another combative gesture.

During their videotaped statements to police after the incident, Acosta and Hurtado said they tried to calm their friend Adame.

It did not work. He was punched so hard at the outset of the fight he fell to the ground, they said. Almendares was cut badly around the same time, he said.

A brawl ensued.

Villanueva, a confessed member of BOE 23, got behind the steering wheel of a van. He drove the vehicle into Adame whose body was dragged across the parking lot, an investigator testified. The van struck Acosta, too.

Both men were rushed to Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Adame was pronounced dead. Acosta lived.

Gainesville Police broke the news to Hurtado during his interview later that day, which was videotaped and played during his trial.

"Dead?" Hurtado asked, in disbelief.

In Villanueva's defense, public defender Brett Willis had planned to submit evidence demonstrating Adame, through his connection SUR 13, was violent.

In his official notice to the court, Willis outlined 10 incidents since 2002 that connected crimes to alleged perpetrators also accused with being part of SUR 13.

None of the incidents specifically named Adame or anyone accused in the Lenox Park Apartments case.

However, one of those cases is currently being prosecuted by Darragh. He is seeking the death penalty against Robert Jacob Montez, who is charged with malice and felony murder for the Aug. 9, 2009 shooting death of Juan Gomez. Montez entered his formal plea as not guilty.

Willis' filing before the plea agreement gives insight as to how the lawyer planned to defend Villanueva and again demonstrates the volatility between suspected gang members in Gainesville.

"We were preparing a case to go to trial. But this is a better resolution probably for everybody," Willis said.

"We were able to get all the parties together and get the best resolution we could come up with without having to have a jury trial."

Adame's parents and fiancee were consulted before the state's negotiated plea with Almendares, court records show.

His parents arrived to the courthouse on March 22 as well.

They presented photos of their son so Deal could picture their loss before sentencing Villaneuva, lawyers said.