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Slaying Results in Life Term

Court: Van Nuys gang member is sentenced in the April 2000 death of one teenager and wounding of another in Newbury Park.

September 20, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Van Nuys gang member was given a life prison sentence Thursday for gunning down two men, one fatally, during a shooting outside a Newbury Park condominium complex two years ago.

Jesus Miranda, 24, sat stoically as Ventura County Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III calculated the prison term for murder, attempted murder and various gang and weapon enhancements.

All totaled, Miranda must serve 94 years in state prison before he is eligible for parole.

Deputy Public Defender Donna Flory urged the judge to strike two 10-year gang enhancements, which would have reduced the sentence to 74 years to life in prison.

Flory called the prosecution demand for the additional time absurd, arguing that Miranda would never outlive his sentence. But Curtis disagreed.

"As far as absurd results, I don't see it that way," the judge said. "This was a very vicious type of killing and it was unnecessary."

The shooting occurred at the Conejo Creek condominium complex on the evening of April 28, 2000, as neighbors and their children stood along the street talking and playing.

About 8:30 p.m., two carloads of gang members pulled up near Edgar Cruz, 19, and Andres Morales, 18, in the 600 block of Avenida Del Platino.

One man jumped from a car and fatally shot Cruz as he stood in the street. The gunman then pointed his weapon toward Morales, who was shot in the abdomen as he turned to run.

The two cars sped away but were stopped by authorities. Seven men were arrested, including Miranda, who was later indicted on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and an allegation that he was an active participant in a criminal street gang at the time of the shooting.

Miranda was also charged with shooting at an occupied dwelling, assault with a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm.

At trial earlier this year, Flory argued that Miranda had been misidentified as the shooter. But jurors found Miranda guilty on all charges.

During a sentencing hearing last week, in which a final judgment was postponed because of a dispute over the calculation of prison time, Cruz's father described the loss of his son as "like taking away part of the body."

"I've been completely destroyed," Jesus Caballero said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John West argued that Miranda shot Cruz and Morales to look tough in front of fellow gang members.

"Jesus Miranda fired a gun point-blank into the chest of an unarmed man," West said. "In fact, he is a coward."

The slaying alarmed some Newbury Park residents, who feared the shootings would spark a cross-county gang war at the complex.

Two days after Cruz was slain, shots were fired at a nearby restaurant where friends of the shooting victims, who were not gang members, had gathered before a memorial service.

No one was injured.

West argued last week that the slaying has left other victims, including children who saw the crime and residents whose apartments were fired upon.

"The people who live on that street, your honor, have lived in fear," West said.

After Thursday's hearing, West said Miranda's sentence should send a message that gang crimes will receive the harshest penalties allowed under state law.

Flory, however, said the sentencing formula created by Proposition 21 will result only in "warehousing" a young man who stood a chance at turning his life around.

Miranda, born in war-torn El Salvador, came to the United States at age 15 after his father was killed and his mother fled, seeking political asylum in the United States.

"He was abandoned by his family and society," Flory said.

"No wonder he is where he is."

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