The trial for Pedro Espinoza, illegal immigrant accused of murdering 17-year-old footballer Jamiel Shaw Jr. in March 2008, finally got underway today.
It's been highly politicized thus far -- delayed by raging controversies over Espinoza's undocumented status, Shaw's own gang affiliation and whether either of those factors should affect the verdict.
But today's opening statements...
... suggest that Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace will be taking the innocent-high-schooler angle when defending his deceased client.
According to City News Service, Grace "told the six-man, six-woman jury that Shaw's Spider-Man backpack drew Espinoza's attention":
"That was enough for Pedro Espinoza to figure in his head that Jamiel Shaw was a possible enemy of (his gang)," Grace said. "Pedro Espinoza would not let this opportunity pass."
The prosecutor said the shooting occurred shortly after Espinoza approached Shaw and asked him the traditional gang inquiry, "Where are you from?"
Grace said Espinoza then shot Shaw in the abdomen and, as the teenager writhed in pain on the ground, "coldly and calmly pointed the gun and fired a second shot into Jamiel's brain, killing him.''
Shaw was gunned down just a few doors down from his Arlington Heights home, obliterating his hopes to play running back for Stanford, Rutgers or another of the schools who had their eye on him.
New D.A. evidence shows that Espinoza has the letters "B" and "K," which stand for "Blood Killer," tattooed beneath his left ear -- a detail that LAPD detectives were reluctant to confirm at the time. So Grace chose to discuss the shooter's gang affiliation before the jury today; however, based on City News' reports from the courtroom, the attorney made no mention of Shaw's own ties to the Rollin' 20's.
Shiara Davila-Moralas, a press information offer for the D.A., says: "We do not expect the issue [of Shaw's possible gang affiliation] to be raised" during the trial.
Because the D.A.'s office has decided that "during pendency we will not be making any statements" on the Espinoza trial, she can say no more. Only that "there were a number of pre-trial motions that have been filed on both sides," and that's what led to the gang-affiliation issue being set aside.
Based on this information, it appears Shaw's attorney asked that the victim's ties to the Rollin' 20s not be brought up in court -- and the judge agreed.
Espinoza's crew, the 18th Street gang (predominantly Latino), has a long and storied beef with the Rollin' 20s (predominantly black) in the West Adams area where the murder took place.
LA Weekly reporter Annette Stark dug deep into Shaw's MySpace activity in the aftermath of the street killing. Among the things she found there:
One disturbing photo posted in his memory is of two rival 18th Street gangbangers with their faces crossed out and titled "Fuck Fackteenz" -- an insult to another very vicious gang. But the most disturbing stuff is in the online photo archive Photobucket, where someone called "earl5sponge" assembled 900 pictures in an album with an animated logo of the Neighborhood Bloods -- N and B dripping blood. That online album contains tributes to Shaw, photos of his friends throwing gang signs next to Shaw's sidewalk memorial, children brandishing weapons and a shot of a teenager pointing a handgun at another child's head.
Two weeks ago, gang graffiti turned up on a curb and door in Shaw's neighborhood. One neighbor, who requested anonymity out of safety concerns, says the crude scribbling read: "2Wild A.I.P." According to a source, 2Wild is one of Shaw's known gang names, and A.I.P. is a sign of the Bloods. And his MySpace tributes from friends refer to Shaw by using other chilling gang names, including DucKe Wild (cK meaning "Crip Killer").
Furious, the victim's parents argued that Shaw was a good kid who was only throwing up peace signs in his MySpace photos.
At the time Shaw was killed, the mainstream media took to tacking the word "innocent" in front of his name. They highlighted Espinoza's illegal-alien status, and chastised the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for having released him at an earlier date, even though he wasn't a legal U.S. resident. (The Shaw family's wrongful-death lawsuit against L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was later dismissed. The judge couldn't find proof that Espinoza shot Shaw because he was black, as the family claimed.)
Meanwhile, a whole slew of city and county political players got involved in the justice crusade for Shaw.
The L.A. City Council went so far as to propose "Jamiel's Law," an ordinance that would require local police to circumvent federal law by "investigating possible violations of federal immigration laws by gang members."
But immigrant activists fought back.
Even L.A. black-rights leader Earl Ofari Hutchinson admitted that Jamiel's Law might infringe on the rights of another minority, in an interview with LA Weekly:
"The Shaws are well-meaning, and public sympathy was with them. But race and politics have rammed their way into this debate with a vengeance. My fear is that this is pitting blacks against Latinos by people who know illegal immigration hits a sore nerve with African-Americans. And so they latched on to this and have made it part of their political agenda."
Mentioning the (majority red) Spider-Man backpack today, instead of the "red belt and red shoes" that Espinoza's attorney has claimed Shaw was also wearing, indicates that the prosecution will paint Shaw as an angel wearing the wrong backpack in their arguments against Espinoza.
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They're going for the death sentence.
In this video, shot at a preliminary hearing for Espinoza, the suspect's cousin talks on the neighborhood gang rivalry: