When Jonathan Gutierrez sat in an orange Davidson County Sheriff’s Office jumpsuit and bragged about his life as a Brown Pride gangster before a reporter and a television camera, he probably didn’t imagine part of the audience for the History Channel’s Gangland show would be the jury that convicted him of premeditated murder last week.
In that interview, Gutierrez answered questions about what life as a Brown Pride gang member in Nashville was like, discussing bad blood between his and rival gang Sureños.
The conversation turned to a specific incident that would tantalize and reverberate in the ears of investigators as something close to a confession when Gutierrez, discussing details of the night of Lucio Garcia’s murder, told Gangland he and his gang “did what we had to do.”
During Gutierrez’s murder trial last week, jurors watched and rewatched clips from that interview before eventually convicting Gutierrez, now 20, on one count of premeditated first-degree murder and four counts of aggravated assault.
Det. Mark Anderson, of the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Gang Unit, watched as the jury read off the guilty convictions late last Wednesday morning. Outside the courtroom, Anderson said Gutierrez has “done his laughing, now he’s doing his crying. He’s going to jail for the rest of his life.”
Anderson said the interview footage of Gutierrez on Gangland “absolutely” led to this conviction. “The kid basically bragged about inflicting violence on rival gang members on the show,” he said.
In the early hours of Aug. 26, 2007, 19-year-old Sureños gangster Garcia drove his white ’96 Ford Mustang — with four juvenile girls along for the ride — past a home on East Thompson Lane where Gutierrez and three others hung out in the front yard.
Garcia made a few passes, the girls yelling out, calling them names, proclaiming it was Sureños’ hood. The last pass sparked a high-speed car chase down Glenrose Avenue, eventually leading onto Interstate 440 and Interstate 65 North.
Prosecutors said one of the Brown Pride gangsters, Alvin Gutierrez, fired shots at Garcia’s car from the front passenger seat before passing the gun to the back passenger seat for Jonathan Gutierrez who, they said, fired the fatal shot as both cars neared the Wedgewood Avenue exit on I-65.
Hector Lopez-Mestizo testified during the trial that just before Gutierrez fired the semiautomatic .9mm pistol at Garcia’s car, he told the others, “I aim before I shoot.”
The bullet that killed Garcia struck him in his left cheek and severed his spinal cord, killing him almost instantly.
The Gangland twist in the case came in August 2009, when the History Channel aired an episode titled “Hunt and Kill” featuring Brown Pride members in Nashville. Gutierrez spoke candidly about the “beef” between Brown Pride and the Sureños, and how Garcia and the female passengers that night had disrespected the Brown Pride gangsters.
When the reporter asked of his involvement in the shooting, Gutierrez said he didn’t want to discuss the details. Then he added, “[They] just started disrespecting us, saying all kinds of stuff. Everything happened so quick. Did what we had to do. So things happen.”
After the episode aired, prosecutors subpoenaed Gangland Productions to turn over the raw footage of the video interview with Gutierrez. In late March 2010, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn upheld that subpoena, setting up what looked to be a challenge to Tennessee’s media shield law, which protects reporters’ privilege to certain information.
In April, attorneys for A&E Television Networks, which owns the History Channel, appealed Blackburn’s decision to uphold the subpoena. Then, inexplicably, the network made an about-face in July, filing a motion to dismiss the appeal and effectively killing a further debate over the shield law. The History Channel subsequently posted on its website a transcript of the entire Gutierrez interview, along with a message stating that while the network disagreed with the subpoena and supported reporters’ privilege under the law, network executives believed the Gutierrez interview had “become newsworthy” because of his pending murder trial and the proceedings involving reporters’ privilege.
Even if the fight to turn over the raw interview footage had continued and A&E won, Assistant District Attorney Bret Gunn said after the trial that the state would still have been armed with the quotes that aired on the show in the first place.
But with the full 75-minute footage of the on-camera interview, prosecutors pulled out 10 to 15 minutes relevant to the night Garcia died, focusing on clips in which Gutierrez discussed the relationship between the two gangs and his own mindset — that he was primed for inflicting violence on a Sureños gangster, a key element for a premeditation conviction.
“Could we have won the trial without [the complete footage]?” Gunn said. “Maybe. It would have been a lot more difficult though.”
Paul Walwyn, defense attorney for Gutierrez, said if A&E’s appeal of the subpoena had been successful, it might have changed things.
“Because I think when you’re not able to ask questions to basically get more information … that was just a partial statement, and things can be taken out of context pretty easily and in a fashion that maybe takes a direction that it wasn’t intended.”
Gutierrez’s conviction carries an automatic life sentence with parole eligibility after 51 years. His sentencing date on the aggravated assault convictions as well as to determine how the sentences will be served is set for Feb. 15.
Cases are still pending against Alvin Gutierrez and Lopez for their roles in the murder.