A violent chapter in Highland Park history is coming to a close. Merced Cambero, Jr., 39, who was captured last year after almost 15 years on the run, recently pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes stemming from attacks on African Americans in Highland Park, including two murders, from 1997 to 2000.
Mr. Cambero, a member of the Avenues street gang, will be sentenced on May 21. He faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison without parole.
Four other members of the Avenues gang who took part in the hate crime spree were convicted at trial and sentenced in 2006 and 2007 to life-without-parole in federal prison.
Mr. Cambero acted as a triggerman in the murder of Kenneth Kurry Wilson, a 38-year old African American man who was gunned down in 1999 while looking for a parking place in Highland Park. Mr. Cambero also conspired with the other gang members to murder Christopher Bowser, a 28-year old African-American man, who was fatally shot in 2000 while waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park. In addition, Mr. Cambero joined with the other gang members in ambushing and attacking African Americans who were going about their lives in Highland Park and shouting racial slurs at them.
The case against Mr. Cambero and the other four defendants was the first in the nation ever filed against gang members under federal hate crime statutes.
Mr. Cambero lived as a fugitive in Mexico until February, 2017, when Mexican authorities determined his true identity and handed him over to the FBI and LAPD. He has been in prison since his capture as his lawyer worked on his case. He originally pleaded not guilty and was scheduled to go on trial on Apr. 24, but his guilty plea has made a trial unnecessary.