Crime & Justice

Gang member convicted of killing high school student Jamiel Shaw Jr. won't testify in his sentencing

The parents of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, Jr., Jamiel Shaw, Sr. and Anita Shaw, talk about what a relief it was to have 23-year-old Pedro Espinoza convicted of their son's murder.
The parents of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, Jr., Jamiel Shaw, Sr. and Anita Shaw, talk about what a relief it was to have 23-year-old Pedro Espinoza convicted of their son's murder.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Gang Member Pedro Espinoza, convicted of murdering Los Angeles High School football star Jamiel Shaw, Jr., will not testify in his sentencing hearing.

"I have considered it and I've decided not to testify," said Espinoza, 23. He was given the weekend to decide.

The sentencing hearing will continue tomorrow with testimony from Espinoza's older sister. Closing arguments are expected before noon.

Prosecutors are asking the jury to recommend the death penalty. The defense team is asking for life in prison without parole.

Espinoza was convicted earlier this month of murdering Shaw, an accomplished Los Angeles High School football player, in March 2008. Espinoza shot Shaw once in the stomach and then in the head just yards from Shaw’s Arlington Heights house as the teenager walked home.

Prosecutors said Espinoza thought the teen was a rival gang member because Shaw was a black kid wearing a red Spider-Man backpack. In four hours of deliberation, the jury also decided that Espinoza was guilty of carrying out the killing to benefit and further the activities of his criminal street gang. Espinoza is a member of the Alsace Street gang, a clique of the 18th Street gang.

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors referred to Espinoza's violent history in juvenile camps and jails. The jury heard testimony from an L.A. County deputy probation officer who said Espinoza jumped into a fight during an earthquake drill at a juvenile camp and kicked another teen in the face who was a rival gang member. Other county deputies talked about how Espinoza attacked other jail inmates with weapons made in prison.

The jury also watched a video of Shaw’s football highlights and heard testimony from his high school football coach who said “the sky is the limit” for what would have been Shaw’s senior year at Los Angeles High School.

Espinoza’s defense attorney, David Houchin, countered by telling the jury Espinoza didn’t grow up the same way Jamiel Shaw did.

A psychiatrist testified on behalf of the defense last week that Espinoza suffered from significant mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), since childhood. The defense also called on Craig Zimmerman with L.A. County Fire, who worked with Espinoza as part of a juvenile camp probation program chopping trees.

"He was my right hand arm," Zimmerman said.

Espinoza, who had been brought to the U.S. by his parent when he was 4 years old, had been living in the country illegally. He had been in county jail, but was released the day before he shot and killed Shaw.

Shaw’s parents tried unsuccessfully to get a law passed that would force police to turn over undocumented gang members to federal immigration authorities for deportation. The family also testified, saying they missed the teen, and talked about the difficulty of losing a child with so much potential.

"I told him I am going to get you to 18, get you to college, and then whatever else you do, that's on you," said the teen's father, Jamiel Shaw, Sr., after Espinoza's conviction. "And then to come up short."