Lasith (lasith) wrote,

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The Capeman

Paul Simon
Songs From The Capeman (1997)
Adios Hermanos

It was the morning of October 6th, 1960
I was wearing my brown suit
Preparing to leave the house of D.
Shook some hands then adios Brooklyn amigos
Maybe some of them had hopes of seeing me again
Some even said that my judge-Judge Gerald Culkin-
Wouldn't play it by the book
Maybe let us off the hook
But, WOH-OO-WOH, I knew better.

Afraid to leave the projects
To cross into another neighborhood

The blancos and the nigger gangs
Well, they'd kill you if they could.

Angel of Mercy, people are suffering
All over the world
Spanish children are taught on their knees to believe
Angel of Mercy, people are suffering
All over the island tonight,
Mothers weep

Sisters grieve.

Well, I entered the courtroom, state of New York
County of New York, just some spic
They scrubbed off the sidewalk
Guilty by my dress
Guilty in the press
Let The Capeman burn for the murder
Well the 'Spanish boys' had their day in court
And now it was time for some fuckin' law and order
The electric chair
For the greasy pair
Said the judge to the court reporter

Afraid to leave the projects
To cross into another neighborhood

The newspapers and the T.V. crews
Well, they'd kill you if they could

Angel of Mercy, people are suffering
All over the world
A Spanish boy could be killed every night of the week

But just let some white boy die
And the world goes crazy for blood-Latin blood.
I don't lie when I speak.

Well they shackled my hands

A heavy belt around my waist to restrain me

And they shackled my legs

Hernandez, the 'Umbrella Man,' chained beside me
Then we rode that Black Maria
Through the streets of Spanish Harlem
Calling old friends on the corners

Just to lay our prayers upon them

Adios Hermanos, Adios

Adios Hermanos, Adios

A taxi cab screeched to a halt on West 46th Street about midnight. From the cab emerged Salvador Agron, the Capeman, who was decked out in a borrowed, crimson-lined black satin cape and fancy shoes, and Antonio Luis Hernandez, the Umbrella Man. Agron, a.k.a. Dracula, Bigfoot, and Machinegun Sal, aged 16, came from Brooklyn, where he used to lead a gang called the Mau Maus. He moved on to become the leader of the Vampires, based in Manhattan's West 70s and 80s. He wielded a twelve-inch silver-mounted Mexican dagger. Hernandez, 17, who hailed from the Bronx, was his top lieutenant and drew his nickname from his habit of using an umbrella as a sharp-pointed weapon. The expansionist Vampires had come downtown for two reasons: they aspired to the turf south of 50th Street and they had heard that their fellow Puerto Ricans were being ill-treated by Irish and Italian teenagers in the area. A rumble had been arranged between the Vampires and the Nordics, to be held at the playground, coincidentally the scene of a spate of recent muggings. Only the Nordics failed to appear. Instead, minutes earlier, three teenagers on their way from the movies walked across the unlit playground, met three friends, two boys and a girl, and sat down to talk.

On September 2, Sal Agron, the swaggering, almost illiterate stepson of a Pentecostal minister, was arrested for the murders and brought to the West 47th Street station house (now the site of Ramon Aponte Park). When questioned by reporters as to why he did the crime, Agron answered, "Because I felt like it." Said Agron at the time, "I don't care if I burn. My mother could watch me." In fact, his mother, Esmeralda Gonzalez, brought him a Bible, which Agron refused to accept.

The Capeman Murders riveted attention on the legions of dispossessed youth plaguing American cities, even as the country experienced a great age of affluence in the years following World War II. Here was Salvador Agron, who up until the age of 16, had spent half his life in poorhouses and reform schools in his native Mayaguez, as well as in several youth and detention homes in New York. His parents had separated when he was one year old. He had foraged for food in garbage cans and slept in hallways, after being abandoned by his real father in Puerto Rico and brought to New York by his mother.

The case went to trial in General Sessions Court in July 1960. Agron was charged with two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted first degree murder. The Vampires' rules called for the youngest member of the gang to shoulder the blame, and despite the fact that he initially boasted of the slayings and despite a 44-page confession which led to his conviction, Agron would say many years later that "someone in that park did it and it wasn't me. I just took the blame. I had a nasty attitude." And: "My cape had no blood. My knife had no blood. The other knife with the blood of the victim was suppressed by the prosecution, was forgot. . . I can't see myself actually plunging in the knife."

Although his attorneys contended that Agron was severely disturbed and was not a wanton killer, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Hernandez, who pled guilty to manslaughter, received a sentence of 7½ to 15 years and was eventually re-tried, re-convicted and released on good time.Four other gang members received various shorter sentences which they went on to serve. The trial lasted thirteen weeks and there was considerable controversy over whether or not it was fair. For many months after the trial, the case remained newsworthy. Agron affirmed over and over again that he could not remember the commission of the crime. In 1961, Anthony Krzesinksi's mother vowed retribution for her son's death. At the time, Agron was in Sing Sing and for 18 months the youngest inmate in New York State history to sit on Death Row. As the death penalty itself was undergoing increasing scrutiny, Eleanor Roosevelt initiated a campaign to have Agron's sentence commuted to life in prison, a campaign Robert Young's father supported. The long clemency drive ended on February 7, 1962, just six days before his scheduled execution, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller commuted his sentence to life in prison without any possibility of parole until 1993. Both trial court judge Gerald Culkin and D.A. Frank Hogan, who had won Agron's conviction, participated in the commutation drive.

"I have been able to maintain the little humanity that was left within me, and working at it in the face of backward surroundings, have been able to cultivate my humanity...and increase my respect for all human beings. I will continue to make this a positive experience. However, how much is enough? How long does it take to correct or rehabilitate a first-time offender?"

Agron summarized his life experience by saying, "If a person acts toward me humanly, I must respond in a very human way. Otherwise, I would be a discredit to my own humanity, and I can't discredit my own humanity because it took me actually quite a while to get a hold of it."

In November 1979, Agron was paroled from Auburn Correctional Facility and settled down to live with his mother, sister Aurea and her child in the Bronx. He took a job as a counselor with the South 40 Corporation, an organization using federal funds to help former offenders. Said Agron at the time: "When they say, Salvador, you're free, I smile. . . and I go out there and I see those ghettos and I see this poverty, why, I say it's relative. Freedom is relative to the conditions. It seems to be very subtle, like something you chase."

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