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Penalty phase begins for killer of high school football star

OW Staff | 5/16/2012, 5 p.m.

Jurors heard evidence Tuesday in the penalty phase of the trial of a 23-year-old gang member convicted of gunning down a standout Los Angeles High School football player whom he mistook for a rival gang member.

Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty for Pedro Espinoza, who killed 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr. on March 2, 2008, while the defense will ask jurors to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The panel deliberated for about four hours on May 9 before finding Espinoza guilty of first-degree murder and finding true the special-circumstance allegation that Shaw's slaying was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang.

Shaw was shot twice--once in the abdomen and once, fatally, in the head--only yards from his home in Arlington Heights. His father found him lying on the pavement.

The penalty phase is likely to feature "victim impact" testimony from Shaw's parents, who have campaigned for a law that would enable police to arrest undocumented-immigrant gang members and hand them over to federal authorities.

At the time of the shooting, Espinoza was living in the United States illegally and had just been released from jail--he had been arrested for allegedly brandishing a firearm--without immigration authorities placing a hold on him.

Prosecutors have said Shaw was gunned down while walking home carrying a Spider-Man backpack whose dominant color, red, made Espinoza perceive Shaw as a gang rival.

"We are here today because on March 2, 2008, he chose to take the life of Jamiel Shaw II," Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski told jurors during her closing argument in the guilt phase of the trial, noting that the last thing the teenager heard before being shot was the classic gang challenge, "Where are you from?"

"It was a cold-blooded murder. It was an execution," the prosecutor said.

Espinoza still sports a tattoo by his left ear consisting of the initials "B.K.," which prosecutors said stands for "Blood Killer."