Merced Cambero, Jr., a member of the Avenues gang, has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for hate crimes committed against African Americans in Highland Park from 1997 to 2000. The gang’s crime spree included two murders.
The sentencing, on June 4, was a long time coming. Mr. Cambero was charged in 2004, but fled to Mexico and was not captured until early 2017. He originally pleaded “not guilty,” but switched his plea to “guilty” in February, 2018.
In court filings connected with the guilty plea and sentencing, Mr. Cambero admitted that in 1999, he and two other Avenues gang members had fired guns at Kenneth Kurry Wilson, an African American who was looking for a parking place in Highland Park. Mr. Wilson, then age 38, was killed by a single gunshot through the neck.
Mr. Cambero also confirmed that he and other Avenues gang members had an agreed-upon goal to preserve the primarily Latino make-up of Highland Park by harassing, attacking and killing African Americans in the neighborhood.
Before the sentencing, the presiding judge – United States District Judge Percy Anderson – heard from Mr. Wilson’s mother and the mother of Christopher Bowser, another African American murder victim of the Avenues’ hate crimes. At the sentencing, Judge Anderson said his decision to give Mr. Cambero 20 years was influenced by Mr. Cambero’s acceptance of responsibility and the desire of the victims and witnesses to be spared the trauma of another trial.
Four other Avenues gang members involved in the hate crimes were convicted at trial in 2006 and sentenced by Judge Anderson to life in prison without parole.