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Gang member convicted in slaying of boy, 4, in Echo Park

February 8, 2010 |  6:07 pm

A parolee and documented gang member was convicted Monday of murder in the 2009 slaying of a 4-year-old boy in Echo Park, authorities said.

Howard Astorga, 26, was convicted by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury of one count each of first degree murder and shooting at an unoccupied motor vehicle, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said. Roberto Lopez Jr.

Jurors also found that Astorga carried out the crime to benefit the Diamond Street gang, according to authorities.

Roberto Lopez Jr. died after he was struck in the chest Jan. 13 last year by a bullet that police said was intended for rival gang members in a passing car. Roberto, who was with his sister and cousins, was walking to a park when he was shot in the 1200 block of Court Street, prosecutors said.

The crime sparked outrage in the community, where a 9-year-old girl had been killed two years earlier by gang crossfire as she stood in the kitchen of her home.

More than 500 people attended Roberto's funeral, where Cardinal Roger Mahony conducted a Mass in Spanish.

According to a Times database, 60 homicides have been reported within two miles of where Roberto died since January 2007.

Astorga has three previous felony convictions in Los Angeles County, for grand theft in 2006, possession of a controlled substance for sale in 2005 and unlawful taking of a vehicle in 2002, the district attorney's office said.

He will be sentenced March 8.

-- Robert J. Lopez

Photo: A photo of Roberto Lopez Jr. that was part of a memorial erected at the site where he was killed. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.