VAN NUYS — A 32-year-old Van Nuys man was convicted of second-degree murder and two assault charges Tuesday for the shooting death of a 2-year-old boy and the wounding of two men during an Easter Sunday picnic.
A Van Nuys Superior Court jury acquitted Larry Dean Shaw on the more serious charge of first-degree murder in the death of the youngster, Ryan Brown.
The panel of 11 women and one man also determined that Shaw was not guilty of attempted murder for shooting Damon Keith Napier, 29, and James Anthony Wright, 30, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting.
After reading the verdict, Judge John Fisher scheduled a Jan. 11 sentencing. The murder conviction carries a mandatory 15-years-to-life state prison term and Fisher, using the other counts and various sentence enhancements, could add about 20 years to that if he chooses.
Defense attorney Douglas E. McCann had argued that prosecutors failed to prove that Shaw was the man with two semiautomatic pistols "shooting OK Corral-style" behind the car where Brown's mother had placed the 2-year-old in the hope of escaping the violence.
"I think it's a very just verdict," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kathleen M. Cady.
The prosecutor acknowledged that certain factors indicated that Shaw did not plan the killing. First-degree murder requires premeditation and deliberations on the part of the killer, while second-degree murder requires only malice.
"I think it was a just verdict and I hope it sends a message to gang members that their conduct will not be tolerated by society and they will be held accountable for their actions," Cady said.
Evidence presented during the trial indicated that the shooting was the result of a gang conflict, although Shaw was never linked to any gang.
The tragedy occurred about dusk after a picnic and Easter egg hunt in Encino's Balboa Park.
Investigators determined that there were at least four shooters and five guns involved in the melee. Several witnesses, including Ryan's mother, Tamara Lee, identified Shaw as being armed with a 9-millimeter pistol in each hand and taking up a position behind a car when the shooting started.
Lee testified that she had placed her son in the vehicle in the hopes of driving away from a fight that was getting out of hand. But she said she was unable to get the keys because the driver was also involved in the altercation.
After seeing Shaw with the two handguns, Lee was trying to pull her child from the car when the back window shattered and a bullet ripped through the child's head, according to the testimony.