A standout Los Angeles High School football player was shot to death by a gang member just feet from his home because he was carrying a red Spider-Man backpack that suggested he belonged to a rival gang, a prosecutor told jurors during opening arguments of a trial in the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles.
An attorney for Pedro Espinoza, however, questioned the evidence linking his client to the March 2, 2008, shooting death of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr.
Shaw was killed in the 2100 block of Fifth Avenue in Arlington Heights while talking with his girlfriend on his cell 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.
He said Espinoza associated the red color of the backpack with the rival Bloods gang, and that "dovetailed with Jamiel Shaw being a young African-American."
"Pedro Espinoza would not let this opportunity pass," he told the jury.
Espinoza, 23, faces a possible death sentence, if convicted of first-degree murder. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation that the killing was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with an allegation that Espinoza personally and intentionally discharged a handgun.
The defendant still sports a tattoo by his left ear consisting of the initials "B.K.," which Grace said stands for "Blood Killer."
"Pedro Espinoza would do anything for the greater glory of (his gang) and to bring attention to himself," Grace said.
According to the prosecutor, Espinoza went to Shaw's neighborhood to visit a friend, Juan Torres, who lived just down the street from Shaw. He spoke to Torres' father, identifying himself as "Pedro," Grace said.
As Espinoza left the Torres home, Grace said, he spotted Shaw, who was walking home from a friend's house, and asked him the traditional gang inquiry, "Where are you from?"
Grace said Espinoza then shot Shaw in the abdomen and, as the teenager writhed in pain on the ground, "coldly and calmly pointed the gun and fired a second shot into Jamiel's brain, killing him."
A female friend, Yisenia Sanchez, had driven Espinoza to the Torres home with another man, Joel Rodriguez. Grace said that after the shooting, Espinoza returned to the car and Rodriguez described him as a "killer."
According to Grace, Espinoza replied, "Yup, I'm a killer."
Grace said Tiffany Johnson, a neighbor of Shaw, saw a Latino man wearing a hoodie approach him and shoot him twice.
Shaw's father found him lying in a pool of blood. Jamiel Shaw Sr. and his wife, Anita, 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 two days before the shooting. He had been serving time for assault with a deadly weapon.
The Shaws also 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.