A standout Los Angeles High School football player was targeted by a gang member and shot to death just feet from his home solely because he was carrying a red Spider-Man backpack, a prosecutor told jurors today, April 30.
Pedro Espinoza is accused in the March 2, 2008, shooting death of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr., who was killed in the 2100 block of Fifth Avenue in Arlington Heights while talking with his girlfriend on the phone.
During opening statements of Espinoza's trial, Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace told the six-man, six-woman jury that Shaw's Spider-Man backpack drew Espinoza's attention.
"That was enough for Pedro Espinoza to figure in his head that Jamiel Shaw was a possible enemy of (his gang)," Grace said. "Pedro Espinoza would not let this opportunity pass."
The prosecutor said the shooting occurred shortly after Espinoza approached Shaw and asked him the traditional gang inquiry, "Where are you from?"
Grace pointed out to jurors that Espinoza has a tattoo by his left ear with the letters "BK," which the prosecutor said stands for "Blood killer."
Espinoza, 23, faces a possible death sentence if convicted. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation that the murder was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with an allegation that Espinoza personally and intentionally discharged a handgun.
Espinoza's attorneys unsuccessfully asked in August 2010 for the trial to be moved outside Los Angeles County, citing media coverage they said has been "both sensational and inflammatory."
In his filing opposing the change of venue request, Grace countered that the case initially got heavy media attention that later dropped off.
Shaw's parents unsuccessfully sued the county, alleging that Espinoza was a "dangerous felon and an immigration violator" and should have been turned over to immigration authorities rather than being freed from jail March 1, 2008. He had been serving time for assault with a deadly weapon.
Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, who was in Iraq when her son was slain, and Jamiel Shaw Sr. mounted an unsuccessful petition drive aimed at getting a law passed that would enable police to arrest undocumented-immigrant gang members and hand them over to federal authorities.
Espinoza was arrested March 7, 2008, and charged four days later with Shaw's murder just as the teen's funeral service was about to begin. He has been jailed without bail since then.