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Jury to decide whether football star’s killer should get death

May 10, 2012 |  2:38 pm

 

Jurors deliberated barely half a day Wednesday before returning a guilty verdict against a gang member accused of killing a Los Angeles High School football star. Now, they must decide whether Pedro Espinoza, 23, should receive the death penalty.

The penalty phase will begin next week.

Prosecutors say that Espinoza shot 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw in the belief that he was a Bloods gang member because he was a black man wearing a red backpack.

Shaw was shot three doors down from his Arlington Heights home in March 2008 as he was walking back from a friend's house after a day of shopping at the mall.

Espinoza, who had been released from custody just 28 hours earlier, asked Shaw, "Where are you from?" before shooting into his abdomen, then again into his head in an execution-like manner, prosecutors contended. Driving away from the scene, he boasted to a fellow 18th Street gang member, "I'm a killer," according to testimony.

Shaw "was targeted for no other reason than the color of his skin and the color of his backpack," Deputy Dist. Atty. Allyson Ostrowski told jurors in closing arguments this week.

The defense called the prosecution's case weak, citing inconsistent witness testimony about the shooter's attire and the absence of a murder weapon.

"There's supposition, conjecture, guessing — there's no proof," defense attorney Csaba Palfi told jurors, responding to a prosecutor's contention that Espinoza had probably passed off the gun to another gang member.

But the jury did not support the defense's position, finding Espinoza guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday.

Shaw's family sought unsuccessfully to qualify a city ballot initiative — called "Jamiel's Law" — that would have allowed police to arrest known gang members who are in the country illegally, even if they are not accused of another crime. After the verdict Wednesday, Shaw's family said they wanted Espinoza to be executed.

"We want the death penalty bad. We want to set a precedent," said the victim's father, Jamiel Shaw Sr.

The senior Shaw said that in the years leading up to trial, his son was subject to a "smear campaign" by defense attorneys trying to portray him as a gang member rather than an innocent casualty of gang violence. His family says Shaw was not involved in gangs.

"He knew where he was going, he knew he had a future, he knew he was loved," his father said.

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-- Victoria Kim

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