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New sentencing hearing ordered for gang member convicted of killing 16-year-old honor student

City News Service | 3/13/2013, 11:35 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--A state appeals court panel today ordered a new sentencing hearing for a gang member convicted of killing a 16-year-old honor student after opening fire on a crowd of people following a homecoming football game in Long Beach.

The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal sent the case against Tom Love Vinson back to Long Beach Superior Court Judge Mark Kim for re-sentencing.

Vinson was convicted in September 2011 of first-degree murder for the Oct. 30, 2009, shooting death of Melody Ross outside Wilson High School.

Vinson also was found guilty of the attempted murders of two gang rivals who were the intended targets, but survived their wounds, and one count of attempted manslaughter involving a girl who was sitting next to Ross on the curb just after the football game finished. She was not wounded.

Vinson--who was 16 at the time of the shooting but tried as an adult--was sentenced in December 2011 to 155 1/2 years to life in state prison.

"Defense contends that imposition of the 'functional equivalent' of a term of life without the possibility of parole ... for a crime committed when he was 16 years old constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

We agree the case must be remanded for re-sentencing to enable the trial court to reconsider its sentence in light of recent case law," the appellate court panel found in its 18-page ruling.

"Before sentencing defendant to what amounts to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the trial court must consider the defendant's age, the differences between a juvenile and an adult, and whether the sentence is appropriate in light of those factors," the appellate court panel found.

The justices also noted that the case had to be remanded for re-sentencing on two gang enhancements.

The panel rejected Vinson's challenge against his conviction for attempted manslaughter.

Co-defendant Daivion Davis, who turned 16 the day after the crime, was sentenced to eight years and four months in a juvenile facility after pleading no contest to manslaughter and attempted murder.

At Vinson's sentencing, the victim's father, Vanareth, said his daughter's death had devastated him and his wife.

"We feel like taking our own life in order for us to see Melody again," he said.

Vinson apologized to Ross' family before Long Beach Superior Court Judge Mark Kim handed down the sentence.

"I'm very remorseful for what happened, and if I could I would lay my life so down so Melody could have hers," the Bellflower man said. "I do wish that the family and friends can forgive me, but I also understand if they can't."

"... I never went to that game to hurt nobody," he said. "I went to that game to have fun like everybody else, (but) due to the life I was living, it seems like you can't have fun without there always being conflict."

Vinson, a former Wilson student, testified during his trial that one of the rival gang members pulled a gun before he started shooting.

Ross, a Wilson High School junior who was in Advanced Placement classes and on the track team, was among a crowd of spectators who were leaving the game when she was shot once in the upper body.