By Joe Nelson, San Bernardino Sun
Posted: 08/25/13, 7:19 PM PDT |

The second phase of a trial in which a man suing two San Manuel tribal members, alleging they had the Mexican Mafia try to kill him, begins Monday in San Bernardino Superior Court.

The jury has already awarded Leonard Epps, 43, formerly of San Bernardino, $4.5 million in compensatory damages after the first phase of the trial ended last month.

Jurors determined that San Manuel tribal member Stacy Nunez-Barajas, 30, was responsible for paying 45 percent of the damages to Epps and that her brother, Erick Barajas, 40, was responsible for paying 33 percent.

Now, the jury will determine how much in punitive damages, if any, the Barajas siblings must pay Epps, who maintains he has had to relocate and needs 24-7 protection for the rest of his life because of an execution order — called a “green light” in gangster lingo — placed on him by high-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia.

Once someone has been “green lighted,” the order is permanent, Epps said in his victim impact statement to the court in 2008, when he filed the suit.

“Stacy and Erik were the primary reason for the ‘green light’ order for my death from the Mexican Mafia,” Epps said in his victim impact statement. “I am afraid to go into crowded restaurants, movie theaters, parks, etc., for fear that someone, anyone, will approach me and shoot me down.”

The case has wound its way through the court over the last five years and has been reassigned to five judges, Epps’ attorney, Frank Peterson, said before the trial started.

The trial revisited the Mexican Mafia’s stronghold in the Inland Empire and its alleged affiliation with some San Manuel tribal members, including the Barajas siblings.

San Bernardino police and federal drug agents learned of the murder plot against Epps in 2006 during a joint investigation into the Mexican Mafia’s methamphetamine rackets in San Bernardino. They said the Barajas siblings, both of whom were convicted in the murder conspiracy case, had conspired to have high-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia — Salvador “Toro” Hernandez and his brother, Alfred Hernandez — order Epps killed after a squabble Epps had with Erik Barajas at the now defunct Brass Key bar in Highland.

The Barajases were convicted in April 2008. Under a plea agreement with prosecutors that some observers considered exceedingly lenient, Nunez-Barajas pleaded guilty to attempted murder with a gang enhancement, transportation of a controlled substance for sale and possession of drugs in jail. She was given probation and electronic monitoring, as was her brother, who pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon with a gang enhancement.

Nunez-Barajas was subsequently sentenced to 17 years at the California Institution for Women in Chino for violating the terms of her probation.

The Hernandez brothers were also convicted in the case. Salvador Hernandez, 48 — who police say was the Mexican Mafia’s shot caller for the San Bernardino area at the time of the crime — was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His brother, Alfred Hernandez, 44, was sentenced to 9 years in prison.

The case unveiled the influence and ties some San Manuel tribal members allegedly have to the Mexican Mafia and local street gangs.

According to federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigative reports filed in San Bernardino Superior Court, police and DEA agents learned during their investigation that the Mexican Mafia had “infiltrated” the San Manuel reservation and had been working with some tribal members on a lucrative methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution empire.

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