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Two teens get 50 to life in drive-by shooting; advocates protest sentence

More than two dozen youths and advocates gathered in front of the criminal courts building in downtown Los Angeles to support two young males who were sentenced today to 50 years to life in prison for a fatal drive-by shooting.

A jury convicted Steven Menendez, 17, and Jose Garcia, 19, of murder in July in the March 2007 death of 16-year-old Danny Saavedra.

Saavedra was playing basketball in the 500 block of 82nd Street in South Los Angeles when he was shot in what police described as a gang-related attack. Afterward, officers pursued a vehicle matching the description of the one used in the killing, and when Garcia and Menendez got out, they were arrested.

Both later said they were just passengers and identified the shooter as Noel Velasco, a 26-year-old member of the Street Villains gang. Velasco was never charged and was shot to death three months later.

Saavedra’s parents and siblings spoke at the sentencing and told prosecutors they considered the sentence appropriate, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

“These were two admitted gang members who went into rival gang territory, and they drove around not once but twice, slowed down and shot and killed a 16-year-old boy who had no gang connection,” Robison said.

But supporters of Garcia and Menendez said they did not deserve such harsh sentences.

“My son has never been locked up before,” said Menendez’s mother, Maria Luisa Borrego, 34, of Downey. “I don’t think this is justice at all. It’s more like vengeance.”

Rachel Veerman coordinates a support group for Menendez and other parents whose children are in jail or detention. She said her own son narrowly escaped being charged as an adult after friends took his car and used it in a drive-by shooting.

She said her son’s lawyer persuaded a judge to keep the attempted murder case in Juvenile Court, and her son was ordered to spend two years in state detention. He is now a freshman at Santa Clara University.

“We’ve been seeing more and more of these outrageous sentences — it just doesn’t make sense,” Veerman said. “They should pay for what they did, but now they’re just throwing them and our tax dollars away.”

Some supporters considered today's sentences a partial victory: Garcia had faced life without parole. About 250 prisoners convicted for crimes committed when they were youths are serving such sentences statewide, according to Kim McGill, an organizer with the Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition.

McGill said her group supports proposals to revise such strict sentencing laws. The Fair Sentences for Youth Act, sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and scheduled for consideration by the state Assembly later this year, would allow some youths sentenced to life without parole to qualify to have their sentences reconsidered and be released.

“They learn much more in the community about what it means to be a good human being than they do in prison,” McGill said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Comments () | Archives (79)

Some would argue the punishment is too light and that these gang bangers should be put to death. Sort of hard to believe that folks are protesting this sentence as too harsh when the defendants murdered someone in cold blood. Where's the justice for the victim and his family?

Read the law. They knew what was going down, they are accomplices. 50 years means they'll be out in 10.

Do the crime do time in life you have a choice take on what path to take these two boys choose to be in a gang or associate themself with them they had a choice to do right insted they took someone life away that had no gang affiliation the victum did not choose for his life to be taken away,at least the moms of the criminals can write to their love ones,the other moms son life is gone, i grew up in south LA on35th st their is no excuse to not rise up and achive your goal

You have got to be kidding me! A lot of you think these two cowards deserve a break? They ride around in a vehicle looking for someone to shoot; kill someone and now because they get what they deserve; you feel it is too harsh a sentence! What should they get? What is a harsher sentence? Death! Or maybe being released one day; a little bit older and wiser. . . but the 16 year old victim will never see his family again!

Both Steven Menendez and Jose Garcia chose to hang out with Noel Velasco and they need to accept responsibility for his actions. You hang out with the wrong people, you become responsible for anything they do.

I agree in one aspect: 100 to life would have been more reasonable. What part of "we're driving around to do a drive-by" did they not understand?

Great! Two more criminals put in prison to become... hardened criminals! I'm sure these two will be way more civilized after some hard time in an overcrowded, under-supervised, for-profit prison. Thank god they weren't selling drugs though.
Oh wait - the gangs are fueled by the blackmarket status, price and violence associated with illegal drugs? The same illegal drugs that are the cause of half the non-violent felonies in the US that are overcrowding the jails? Wait a minute...
Sounds like a nifty little plan to keep the privately-owned, for-profit jails making money. There is little to no chance that these young men will see anything close to reform.
Seriously, is the line that hard to follow?

Let me just end this out with the fact that I think these two deserve some time in prison. The time they spend there is almost irrelevant. No number of years will make up for the loss of another boys life. These young men need hard time and counseling. This is something that we would have the resources for if we didn't treat every drug addict as a criminal, but as someone with an addiction.

He should have gotten a longer sentence!

Steven Menendez was only 14 years old and Jose Garcia was 16 years old when this heinous murder of young Danny Saavedra was committed. However, Steven and Jose were not the shooters. These CHILDREN were ordered by an older adult, someone 10 - 12 years their senior, into a car and commanded to drive him around. When one grows up in a gang infested neighborhood, one follows orders or risks being injured or killed themselves.

Dr. Dr. Michael Miller from Harvard Medical School published that although many teens have fairly advanced intellectual and reasoning ability, recent research has shown that human brain circuitry is not mature until the early 20s. Among the last connections to be fully established are the links between the prefrontal cortex — the seat of judgment and problem-solving — and the emotional centers of the brain. These links are crucial to emotional learning and high-level self-regulation.

Science clearly demonstrates that the adolescent brain functions differently than a grown adult. It is exactly for this reason that the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18, citing the Eight Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. And it is clearly cruel and unusual punishment to give life in prison without parole to a CHILD for being a passenger (and a driver in the case of the 16 year old) in a car, which was used in during a murder, but for which they were not directly responsible. Tax payer dollars would be much better spent rehabilitating these young men and being invested in mentoring of young folks from communities with easy access to drugs, guns and alcohol, than it would in paying for the total keep of these two youngsters for the rest of their lives in prison.

I am shocked to be residing in a community with residents who think it is okay to lock up CHILDREN for life in prison. Looks like sanctimonious judgment has taken the place of compassion in our community.

Lighter sentences? When is the death penalty going to be enforced in California again !

If you look at the case and actually learn the facts, you will see that the shooter was a 26 year old - who is now dead. Another fact is that this was NOT a gang related incident - it was a love triangle that did not involve the 2 young men that are going to be incarcerated for 50 years. This is NOT justice. It is so much deeper than the other comments presented.

What would you expect the shooter's parents to say? As we become more and more over run by people who have little regard for human life and a lawful society, this type of thought process will become prevalent. We need to spend more time teaching accountability to the parents and asking them to act as positive role models for their children. Otherwise, we need to enforce our immigration laws and crack down on the type of people allowed to come to America.

Tell me why these illegal animals are not put to death?

One mother said before the murder, her son was never "locked up before". What difference does that make. That facts are participated in a murder of a another young man. She can go visit her son in prison, the victims family will never see him again and can only go visit his grave. I think they should have gotten life without the possibility of parole. With this sentence, they can be paroled maybe after 20 to 25 years.

The statement was made they would learn more about being good citizens or somthing like that, and if they go to Prison they wouldn't learn that! Excuse me, they had the opportunity to LEARN TO BE GOOD CITIZENS before they involved themselves in this terrible slaying, of an innocent man.
In 50 years, MAYBE it will come to them, that they erred in killing the young man.


Times are changing, there is not likely to be a light sentence for being involved in a murder. The obligation we have is to STOP a murder, not to be a passenger having a laugh when someone is murdered.

Life is not a movie, life is serious and there are consequences.

Thank you to the police and the courts for making the streets of Los Angeles safer for the rest of us.

Sentence was definitely too light. They killed another individual and yet these people have the nerve to say "it's too harsh!...wah wah wah!" Would YOU want a killer, regardless of age, living next door? I know I certainly wouldn't. Society and these people specifically need to take responsibility for the actions.

The idea that they had no idea what their friend was doing is ridiculous. They made a choice that night and they got caught. 50-Life for a murder (accomplice is treated same as the murderer) is completely fair.

those cowards truly do deserve every year of yhat sentence

These liberal advocates are just as evil as the murderers. Now liberal democrats are sponsering bills to release them to murder again. Read the last two paragraphs.

we have to relize how many young person's are dying for no good reason. and if we dont scare them straigh Or atlest try , we will lose many more it's bad enough we are giveing up so many of are son's and daughters in the armed force . and i no its for are country ... I have a brother who did 2 tours so I can speak from experienc. anyways these kids and adults need to know it's gonna be O tolernce. thank you

I'm am very pleased with the sentence the Judge gave them. People need to realize these are known gang members. Yes your son might have never been arrested before but it doesn't change the fact that he and his friend where out that night looking for trouble. They had not business being in that part of town, aside from the fact that they where there to commit a crime. Hopefully this harsh sentence will deter future acts of violence from stupid kids trying to be tough.

The comments of Kim McGill are interesting. Clearly these boys learned nothing in the community about how to be a good human being. What would make anyone think that remaining in the community after killing someone, that they would learn anything different. Their parents have not taught them anything different, their friends surely didn't teach them anything different. It seems to me that a prison sentence may have the opportunity to teach them something different. I'm all for fair sentencing and reduction of the amount of money we spend as a state on imprisonment, but there are crimes that call for imprisonment and a chance to learn some lessons in a different setting from different people than the setting and people these boys are familiar with currently.

“They learn much more in the community about what it means to be a good human being than they do in prison,” McGill said.

So what you mean to say is these People's Parents did not teach them right and wrong prior to this event, and should now been given a chance to raise there children in a correct manner...

You do NOT Harm Life PERIOD...
You do NOT take Life PERIOD...

Thats the reason you feel like total HELL inside when you do these things, because you can feel the wrong...

It don't have to be GOD it don't have to be a soul.. But if you harm something and feel nothing...

Then you need to be removed from the planet before you Hurt one of Us.

Thank You Mom and Dad;
for teaching me these things that I should know.

This is Great News!!, It's so good to see justice being served, and those two cowards getting exactly what they deserved, and by the judges sentencing guild lines these two will have to do at the least 50 years. How good is that?, Great News!!. I wish I could read more stories like this of more gang-bangers going down like this too!, then we could have more peace in our communities, and nieghborhoods. Those two cowards will be in their 60's when their able to have a parole hearing to try and get out, and that's no gaurantee if the parole board votes against that after how cold heartedly they just killed an innocent kid for the sake of a gang that will soon forget about them too; Now, why would one have loyalty to someone or a group like that?

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