Cockfights spur murder, mayhem, drug deals and counterfeiting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1999:

Gamecock expert Grady Coker, M.D., contended
in a December letter to ANIMAL
PEOPLE that cockfighting isn’t associated
with violent crime, but the gunfire erupting on
January 23 at an illegal cockfight in San
Bernardino, California, told a different story.
Seven people were hurt, “including
a toddler and an 11-year-old,” according to
police, who said they found bloody roosters,
syringes, and illegal steroids at the scene.
Arrested at another site where gamecocks were
also found were Robert Elizarraraz, 23;
Sergio Villarruel, 19; Salvador Ochoa, 18;
and an unidentified 17-year-old.
“There apparently was a dispute during
the event, and several suspects were asked
to leave,” said police sergeant Mike
Blechinger. “They did leave, but returned
with guns and [allegedly] started shooting into
the crowd.”

The shooting came a year less a day
after Jesus Brambila, 29, of Yakima,
Washington, was apparently accidentally
killed as he and about a dozen other men
including his three brothers allegedly robbed
an illegal cockfight in Sunnyside,
Washington. Yakima County sheriff’s detective
Robert Weedin theorized that another robber’s
shotgun was inadvertantly discharged.
Between the Washington and
California shootings, there were others.
James Cox, 36, of Williamsburg,
Kentucky, was arrested for allegedly shooting
Curtis Lawson Jr., 36, in the head with a shotgun
during a July 12 dispute over the proceeds
from the sale of a gamecock by the victim’s
brother, Eddie Wayne Lawson, 37. Police
said Cox and both Lawsons claimed shares in
the deal. Curtis Lawson reportedly survived.
On August 31, 1998, Miami-Dade
county police visiting an illegal cockfighting
arena in response to a tip found murder victims
Eduardo Yanes, 53; Rene Vasquez, 33; and
a third man, 33, whose identity was withheld.

Cocker off Death Row
Cockfighting-related homicide was
also spotlighted in January 1999 when
Missouri governor Mel Carnahan commuted to
life in prison the death sentence of triple killer
Darrell J. Mease, 52, at request of Pope John
Paul II. Mease was to have been executed on
January 27, coinciding with the Pope’s recent
visit to St. Louis. Mease was convicted of
shotgunning his former employer, alleged
methamphetamine maker and cockpit operator
Lloyd Lawrence, 69; Lawrence’s wife
Frankie, 56; and their paraplegic grandson
William, 19. Police said Lawrence had
accused Mease of stealing methamphetamine.
Alleged cockfighting violence even
spilled into the Oklahoma state legislature in
January, when according to representative
Charles Gray (D-Oklahoma City), Oklahoma
Game Breeders Association member Walt
Roberts “told me that if I filed a bill to ban
cockfighting, he’d have 4,000 to 5,000 people
come to the state capitol and work me over. I
don’t take kindly to being threatened,” Gray
explained to Mick Hinton of the D a i l y
O k l a h o m a n. “Roberts is still mad because
some of us didn’t support him enough” in an
unsuccessful race for a seat in the U.S. House
of Representatives in November 1998. “So I
included in the bill some other things that
Roberts likes, like rodeos and hunting, and I
like them too,” Gray continued.
Roberts denied threatening
Gray––and got what he wanted, when the
breadth of the Gray bill convinced Oklahoma
house criminal justice committee chair Bill
Paulk to table it without consideration.
Cockfighting has been legal in Oklahoma since
1963, but a Daily Oklahoman poll of 750 residents
found in early January that 54% were
unaware it is legal, 65% would vote to outlaw
it, 30% would favor it, and only 6% would
actually attend a cockfight.
In cockfighting mythology, disputes
over attempts to rig fights to win illegal bets
are the major form of associated crime, but
illegal drugs turn up so often in cockfighting
raids that related drug charges may be prosecuted
more often than cockfighting itself. In
January 1998, for instance, St. Augustine
police reportedly didn’t bother to file a cockfighting
charge against brothers Mark Damon
Alters, 18, and Shawn William Arthur, 24,
after finding 75 gamecocks, 20 hens, and a
case of cockfighting paraphernalia in their possession,
because they charged the brothers
with far weightier charges pertaining to
allegedly possessing, cultivating, and
attempting to sell marijuana and LSD.

Follow the money
Heavier charges than pertain to
cockfighting were also reportedly pending
against William Donald Nichols, 60, after a
police raid on September 21, 1998 on the
premises where he lived near Portland,
Oregon, found at least 400 alleged gamecocks
among a flock of 1,500 poultry he had in two
barns near Portland, Oregon.
Also allegedly found were amphetamines,
counterfeit cash, counterfeiting equipment,
and seven firearms, which Nichols as
an ex-convict was not allowed to keep.
Nichols in 1978 was sentenced to 10 years in
prison in 1978 for offering an undercover
Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy $2,500 to
kill a building contractor.
The raid came after the arrest of
Virginia Anne Homan, 51, for alleged counterfeiting
led police to arrest Diane R. Shaw,
a.k.a. Diane R. Mooso, 43, and Scott E.
Barnes, 27, for alleged forgery, possession of
counterfeit currency, possession of illegal
drugs, and being fugitives from justice.
Shaw/Mooso reportedly told federal agents
that Nichols asked her to produce counterfeit
money for him to wager on cockfights.
The first known conviction of cockfighters
for felony cruelty came on January 6,
1999 in Sacramento, California, when a
Superior Court jury convicted Modesto Ruiz
Baniqued, 65, of three felonies and four related
misdemeanors, and convicted Gonzalo
Bito, 54, of one felony, in connection with a
cockfight raided in July 1997 at which 30 dead
and dying roosters were confiscated. A similar
charge against Bito’s brother George Bito, 41,
was dismissed after the jury deadlocked, and
Patrick Zamora, 41, was acquitted.

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