Held captive in a Colorado Springs motel room, a 15-year-old girl was punched in the face and shocked with a stun gun while being forced to give up the names of two friends who allegedly helped a street gang shoot up homes of their rivals, the South Side Soldados.
“It wasn’t me — It was Natalie and Aily,” the girl told her abductors from the Soldados in pleading for the abuse to end.
The violent interrogation in February 2017 was described on the stand at a double-murder trial by witness Joseph Rodriguez Jr., a Soldados member who said he participated in the girl's abduction and witnessed a fellow gang member, Alexandra Romero, beat and terrorize her — all part of a plot by the Soldados to get revenge on members of the Meadows gang.
Authorities say the girl’s claims under duress helped cement the fate of Natalie Cano-Partida, 16, and Derek Greer, 15. Two weeks later, the Coronado High School students were shot at point-blank range by gang assassins after being abducted and driven to a remote roadside near Fountain, authorities say.
The man on trial, Marco Garcia-Bravo, is accused of serving as one of two shooters. He faces the potential of a life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. Rodriguez and Romero were also charged with first-degree murder in the teens’ deaths, accused of playing roles in the plot that culminated in their shootings. Both pleaded guilty to lesser charges including second-degree kidnapping and await sentencing. They are required to testify under terms of their plea deals. In all, five people were charged with murder in the case and five were charged with related crimes. All but the defendant have pleaded guilty.
Although authorities have described Greer as a bystander, Cano-Partida was the “Natalie” linked by her friend to the Meadows. The other girl, Aily Wright, was also targeted by the Soldados, but escaped harm when a plot to abduct her fizzled, authorities say.
On Thursday, Rodriguez recounted how a simmering feud between the Soldados and the Meadows led to shootings that targeted homes of two Soldados members, ratcheting up tensions. In the Soldados’ hunt for revenge, Rodriguez and others abducted one of Cano-Partida’s friends at a party, blindfolded her with a bandanna and drove her to a Super 8 Motel at Platte Avenue and Peterson Road, where she was beaten and questioned about her ties to the rival gang.
Rodriguez, who was without his gun, stood by with a metal pipe during the girl's ordeal.
The girl denied involvement and instead “put it all on” Cano-Partida and Wright, who allegedly associated with Meadows members, Rodriguez said.
“Why are you doing this? I’m only 15,” she cried, according to Rodriguez. He said Romero hit her in the face with a closed fist, causing her lip to quickly bruise, and shocked her several times in the side with a pink stun gun resembling a flashlight.
Rodriguez claimed the beating was stopped once the gang members learned “she was just a kid,” saying that violence against children was “off-limits” under the code of the Sureños, the notorious Mexican street gang to which the Soldados claimed allegiance.
“After that they started preaching to her, like, ‘This is the life you wanna live?’”
Afterward, the girl was taken to the Whitney Young Manor apartments on Delta Drive, but managed to escape after her abductors left her under the supervision of a woman who let her walk out.
Investigators learned about the girl's ordeal — and its role in the killings of Cano-Partida and Greer — only after the murders had been committed, an investigator testified at a pretrial hearing.
Rodriguez also described the night of the deadly abductions of Cano-Partida and Greer, though he said he wasn't present when they were fatally shot. He is expected to resume his testimony Monday, after a one-day break in the trial.