The jury has recommended the death penalty in the trial of 18th Street gang member Pedro Espinoza for shooting and killing Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw Jr. four years ago. Espinoza will be formally sentenced Sept. 21 after the judge makes the final decision about Espinoza's fate.
The jury had to decide whether Espinoza deserved the death penalty or life in prison without parole. They spent four hours deliberating. Prosecutors had asked a Los Angeles jury to recommend that Espinoza be put to death for the killing.
“Draw on your courage to make the right decision,” Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski told the jury.
Closing arguments were made Tuesday.
Espinoza was convicted this month for the Shaw's murder. Espinoza shot 17-year-old Shaw on March 2, 2008 twice, once in the stomach and another time in the head.
Prosecutors said the Los Angeles High School student, who had a collection of Spider-Man items in his bedroom, had been walking home carrying a red Spider-Man backpack that made Espinoza mistakenly perceive him as a gang rival. Espinoza never took the stand in court hearings.
Ostrowski took aim at the psychiatrist the defense retained who said Espinoza has suffered from bipolar and attention deficient and hyperactivity disorders since childhood. Ostrowski said even though the psychiatrist said he suffered from those conditions, she said Espinoza made was able to make calculated decisions when he fired a second gunshot into Shaw’s head.
“That's another moment where the defendant demonstrated to you that he is capable of a making calm, cold, collected decision to kill,” Otrowski said.
Defense attorney M. David Houchin told the six-man, six-woman jury that there has been "so much emotion in this case."
"Please don't let it cloud so much that you are unable to make the right choice as to the penalty," he said shortly before the case was turned over to the jury.
Jurors deliberated about four hours on May 9 before convicting Espinoza of first-degree murder and finding true the special circumstance allegation that the slaying was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang.
"He chose to execute a 17-year-old for the color of his skin and the color of his backpack," Ostrowski told jurors.
Espinoza's attorney said he was "not trying in any way to excuse Pedro Espinoza," who "must be punished severely."
"My plea for Mr. Espinoza's life is not a plea for leniency," he said, arguing that the death penalty "should be meted out to the worst in our society."
Clarification: While the jury has recommended the death penalty, it's still up to the judge to make the final decision.
This story has been updated.