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Gang member sentenced to death in Jamiel Shaw slaying

November 2, 2012 |  2:41 pm

The gang member convicted of killing high school football star Jamiel Shaw was sentenced to death Friday in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Pedro Espinoza, 23, stood silently as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald Rose sentenced him for the March 2008 murder, in which Shaw was shot once in the stomach before being shot again, execution-style, in the head just feet from his front door.

"This defendant executed the victim in this as he lay defenseless and incapacitated on the ground, without a weapon," Rose said.

Prosecutors say the 17-year-old standout running back was killed by Espinoza for carrying a red Spider-Man backpack. They say Espinoza, who was a member of the 18th Street Gang, believed the red backpack meant that Shaw was a member of the Rolling 20s, a rival gang.

Family members, many wearing red and sitting in the front row of the courtroom, fought back tears as the prosecution and the defense rehashed details of Shaw's slaying. As the court recessed for lunch, one family member smiled at another, patted him on the back and mouthed: "It'll be OK. This is going our way."

Prior to the sentencing, Rose rejected a defense motion for a new trial. Espinosa's lawyers argued that he had received an unfair trial because, among other reasons, the court barred evidence of Shaw's alleged gang affiliation and allowed two jurors to wear red.

On nearly half a dozen instances, Espinosa's lawyers were delayed by requests for discussion by their client -- who also attempted to add his own motion for a new trial.

"It's not uncommon for attorneys to attempt to fall on their swords in order to save their client's life," Rose said to Espinosa's defense attorney, Csaba Palfi, after Espinosa argued Palfi's defense had been inadequate. "The defendant is a very intelligent individual, who through his refusal to cooperate with his own attorneys has tried to establish that his attorneys are incompetent."

Palfi argued that sentencing Espinosa to death was a "Band-Aid on the hemorrhaging wound that is gang violence."

In a final plea for his client's life, Palfi cited Espinosa's abusive home life, arguing that he was groomed for violence. Truly at fault, he said, was a legal system that fails to fix gang violence -- not Espinosa.

"We can kill him," he said before an extended pause. "But it's not going to stop anything. It's not going to fix anything."

Just moments before the sentence, Jamiel Shaw Sr. issued a victim-impact statement, in which he drew a contrast between his son and the teen's murderer.

"He thought he was big, bad Pedro. But now that it's time for judgment day, he doesn't want to be executed," Shaw said. "These kind of people don't deserve to walk among us."


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-- Wesley Lowery in L.A. County Superior Court


Photo: Pedro Espinoza was sentenced to death Friday in a Los Angeles courtroom. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times