Gang member sentenced to death in double-murder case

LOS ANGELES -- A gang member was sentenced to death today for murdering two men in separate shootings in Compton in 2008.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe rejected an automatic motion to reduce the jury's death sentence recommendation for Travis Jeremy Lewis to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lewis, 23, of Compton, was convicted May 4 of first-degree murder for the April 3, 2008, slaying of Eder Pineda-Hernandez and the June 15, 2008, killing of Roberto Benitez.

Pineda-Hernandez, 21, was shot eight times while standing in front of his apartment building in the 14800 block of South Atlantic Avenue after being mistaken for a rival gang member, according to Deputy District Attorney Kevin Stennis.

There was no evidence that Pineda-Hernandez was a gang member or had done anything to provoke the attack, but Lewis "bragged that he had killed a rival,'' the judge noted.

Benitez, the 23-year-old father of an 11-month-old son, was shot once in the neck after walking up to a taco truck that was being robbed on Alondra Boulevard east of Atlantic.

That shooting also occurred without provocation, the judge said.

Along with the murder charges, jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during the commission of a robbery in Benitez's killing and murder while an active participant in a criminal street gang in Pineda-Hernandez's killing.

Jurors also convicted Lewis of two counts of second-degree robbery involving the taco truck's owner and one of his employees, along with another second-degree robbery count involving a Feb. 16, 2007, hold-up at a 7-Eleven store at Rosecrans and Atlantic avenues.

The jury deliberated about three hours before recommending on June 3 that Lewis be sentenced to death.

One of Lewis' attorneys, Katie Murff Trotter, said at the time, "I don't see a jury coming back that fast to kill somebody.''

She told the judge during the sentencing hearing that Lewis -- who was 21 at the time of the murders -- had "no significant prior history of violence.''

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