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Gang member gets life in prison for killing L.A. sheriff's deputy

Escalante150A gang member pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of an L.A. County sheriff's deputy in 2008 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Carlos Velasquez, 28, pleaded guilty to murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the Aug. 2, 2008, slaying of Dep. Juan Abel Escalante, right. The plea was accepted by Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen.

Velasquez was originally charged with capital murder and could have faced the death penalty. He admitted he killed the deputy as he was leaving his parents' Cypress Park home to head to work at the Men's Central Jail.

Escalante was shot in the back of the head as he reached into his car to adjust a child’s car seat.

Deputy Dist. Attys. Phillip Stirling and John Colello say Velasquez wrongly believed he was killing a gang rival and shot the deputy numerous times.

After a joint investigation by the LAPD and the sheriff's department, Velasquez was arrested in December 2008. Three alleged members of the Cypress Park gang, Jose Renteria, Armando Albarran, and Roberto Salazar have also been charged in the killing and their trials are pending.

Escalante had been a member of the sheriff's department for 2½ years and had served in the Army Reserve. He worked at the Men's Central Jail guarding some of the county's most dangerous inmates.

He and his family had been living with his parents while waiting to move into a new Pomona home.

The suspects are alleged members or associates of the notorious Avenues gang, which has long feuded with the Cypress Park gang, whose territory includes the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood where Escalante lived.

The Avenues is among the most powerful gangs in the city and retains strong ties to the Mexican mafia, known as the Eme, which is a dominant force in California prisons.

The Cypress Park neighborhood where Escalante grew up had experienced a lull in gang violence in recent years until rival groups began feuding in 2007. The violence led to a raid mostly targeting the Avenues gang by police and federal agents, who stormed an area around Drew Street, about a mile north of where Escalante was killed.

The Avenues gang took root in the 1950s and derives its name from the avenues that cross Figueroa Street.

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-- Richard Winton

Follow Richard Winton (@LACrimes) on Twitter and Google+

Photo: Deputy Juan Abel Escalante. Credit: L.A. County Sheriff's Department

 
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