The convict in one of L.A.'s highest-profile gang murders was handed the death penalty today by a Superior Court jury after only two-and-a-half hours of deliberation.
Pedro Espinoza, now 23 years old, was declared guilty on May 9 of first-degree murder for killing 17-year-old football star Jamiel Shaw in 2008. The verdict came with a gang enhancement, for the killer's affiliation with the 18th Street Gang of West Adams. And today, the jury recommended he be sentenced to death for the crime.
Espinoza's status as an illegal immigrant...
... made the shooting especially controversial. Shaw's parents even pushed for L.A. politicians to pass 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 the investigation took a controversial turn in the other direction when evidence of Shaw's own gang affiliation surfaced on the Internet. In LA Weekly's summer 2008 story "Fury Over Jamiel's Law," reporter Annette Stark examined Shaw and his friends' MySpace activity, which showed them throwing up gang signs and otherwise identifying with the Rollin' 20s, a longtime 18th Street rival.
However, there was no mention of Shaw's possible gang ties during Espinoza's 2012 trial. Based on information we received from the D.A., that was the result of a successful pre-trial motion filed by Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace.
We've contacted the killer's lawyer to see if Espinoza will appeal. Updates to come.
For more on the four-year history of this complex homicide case, see: "Jamiel Shaw, L.A. Football Star, Murdered Over His Spider-Man Backpack, Says D.A.; Shaw's Gang Affiliation Won't Factor Into Trial."
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Update: Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski called Espinoza's crime a "cold-blooded, calculated execution," reports City News Service.
Strangely, Ostrowski also told the jury that Espinoza "literally aspired to sit in this chair as a capital murder defendant," based on comments he allegedly made to his probation officer that he was "down for death row."
But the defendant's attorney replied that his client, although not the most upstanding citizen, is not among the "the worst in our society" -- a designation that should be required for death row. He pleaded with the jury not to let the emotional severity of this case get in the way of a rational sentence.