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Two reputed gangsters plead in tagging-related murder

March 16, 2009 |  5:51 pm

Two gang members were sentenced to 21 years in state prison today after pleading no contest to the 2006 slaying of a Valinda man who tried to stop them from tagging.

Anthony Alex Castillo and Robert Alex Lopez, both 19, each pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter as part of street gang activity. Both men were not believed to have carried out the shooting. A third suspect died while the case was being investigated.

The 2006 killing of Robert Whitehead was one in a series of high-profile shootings involving tagging. Whitehead was killed after challenging young gang members he caught crossing out another gang's graffiti on a neighbor's garage.

The next year, in a separate incident, Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks was gunned down after she honked her car horn, flashed her car lights and followed a tagger who had defaced a wall.

In the Whitehead case, Castillo was arrested in December 2007. Lopez was arrested two months later. Both were charged with murder and special allegations that the crimes took place using a gun and in furtherance of gang activity.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's investigators also found evidence that led them to charge six suspects in an unrelated conspiracy to commit a murder-for-hire plot involving the Mexican Mafia, a case that is now being tried in a downtown criminal courtroom.

--Andrew Blankstein