'Poster boy for gang violence' handed life

Web Posted: 07/31/2007 11:46 PM CDT

Elizabeth Allen

Israel Mata is a "poster boy for gang violence," prosecutor Mary Green said during his sentencing hearing Tuesday for murder.

He's left behind a trail of guns, drugs, violence, bloodshed and sorrow, she told 186th District Judge Maria Teresa Herr.

Herr then sentenced Mata, 27, to life in prison for a drive-by shooting that killed 13-year-old Beatrice Diaz on March 3, 2005.

Beatrice's sister Valarie addressed Mata in a victim impact statement after he was sentenced. She began formally, with a shy smile to the court:

"Hi. I am Valarie Diaz. I am Beatrice Diaz's sister."

As she spoke, her voice built into staccato anger at the man in orange jail scrubs standing across from her, flanked by bailiffs.

"You, Mr. Mata, don't know what you took from us. When you took my sister, you also took my mom's heart and changed our lives forever."

She described watching her sister lying in a hospital bed with part of her head shaved, a doctor pointing out where the bullet entered and left her skull.

She described watching machines breathe for the once-lively girl as she struggled for six days before dying.

"I can see from your face that you don't care," Valarie said when a voice from the courtroom blurted out, "He didn't do it."

It was Leticia Arriola, Mata's fiancee, who had been crying since Herr pronounced Mata's sentence. Bailiffs escorted her out, but earlier she had talked of how the family would appeal Mata's conviction.

"He has three girls and he takes care of my daughter," Arriola said. "We will appeal and we hope that a miracle occurs and they see the truth, that he's innocent.

"He wouldn't do such a thing. He takes care of four girls. Why would he try to harm one?"

Beatrice was shooting hoops with her 17-year-old cousin Hector Reyes outside her Southeast Side home when she caught a bullet that was intended for him.

Reyes had been in an escalating conflict with younger members of Mata's rival gang, according to trial testimony.

A jury in June convicted Mata of being the shooter who had risen to his knees to fire from the bed of the pickup that his brother, Arturo Mata, 32, was driving past Beatrice's house on Caldwell Street.

Arturo Mata was found guilty of murder in February and sentenced to 50 years.

A witness had testified to seeing Arturo Mata drive the truck, but the shooter wore a black rag over his face. Prosecutors in Israel Mata's trial relied on bullet casings, his fingerprints on the rail of the truck bed and the testimony of a man who drove the Matas and another man to Port Aransas the night of the murder.

Defense lawyer Eddie Garcia argued during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial that the evidence against Israel Mata was circumstantial and that there was plenty of reasonable doubt.

Numerous people were around the Mata brothers the night of the shooting, but only one would talk.

Almost nobody who knew Israel Mata would testify at Tuesday's hearing, either. Though prosecutors spent most of the day presenting witnesses, they were almost all police officers and evidence technicians.

It's evidence of the challenges of going after gangs, Green said.

"That's how gang members operate, through witness intimidation and fear," she said. "The fact of the matter is, they leave a trail and they will be held accountable."

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