A young convict and alleged gang member had been released from jail a little more than a day before he shot and killed Los Angeles High School football star Jamiel Shaw Jr., LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said Tuesday.
On the same day mourners attended the 17-year-old's funeral in the Crenshaw district, authorities announced that the alleged gunman, Pedro Espinoza, 19, had been formally charged with Shaw's death. Espinoza, according to officials, is a member of the 18th Street gang and had spent nearly four months in a Los Angeles County jail for exhibiting a firearm and resisting arrest before he was released March 1, 28 hours before Shaw's death.
"It was spontaneous," Bratton said of the killing. "He was a gang member. He saw someone else he thought was from an opposing gang and he immediately, almost intuitively, popped out of that car and shot that young boy twice.
"He assassinated him just on the belief the other individual may have been a gang member. That is what we are up against in this city, sociopaths like that who just got out of jail and within a day had a gun and in an instant took that young boy's life."
The charge of murder with special circumstance enhancements could carry the death penalty.
Shaw, who was not a gang member, was only three doors from his home in Arlington Heights on March 2 when he was fatally shot. Two men in a car had pulled up next to him, asked if he belonged to a gang, and then shot him when he apparently didn't answer, authorities say.
After hearing the gunshots, Shaw's father ran outside to find his son wounded next to a tree that the two had planted with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa almost three years ago as part of the city's Million Trees Initiative. The boy later died in a hospital.
Several tips from the public led to Espinoza's arrest late Friday night, authorities said.
Detectives continue to search for the second, unidentified person in the vehicle. Espinoza appeared in a downtown courtroom Tuesday, but his arraignment was postponed until March 25. He is being held without bail.
Before the killing, Espinoza had been in jail since Nov. 18, according to Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. While incarcerated, he was sentenced on Jan. 22 to 180 days in jail with credit for time served, records show. Espinoza's record shows that he also was convicted of disturbing the peace.
Bratton said that Espinoza's sole motivation was his membership in the 18th Street gang, and that his fatal actions were designed to further the gang's activities. Bratton said the killing had nothing to do with the fact that he was Latino and his victim, black.
Shaw, a running back, was named his team's and the Southern League's most valuable player in 2007, and he had drawn the interest of recruiters from Stanford and Rutgers universities, his family said.
His mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was serving in Iraq when her son was slain and flew home to be with her family. She has called for community action to stop gang violence.
On Tuesday, a bouquet of blue-and-white flowers lay atop the youth's casket, representing the colors of the Los Angeles High School Romans football team. His teammates, in white-and-blue jerseys, were among the mourners.
At a news conference in City Hall later, Villaraigosa said Shaw's death had affected the city deeply.
"Jamiel Shaw represented the hope and opportunity of so many young people in our city," the mayor said. "He was not only a star athlete, he was a star human being as well. He was a model for his peers. He worked hard, according to his coach. He played by the rules and set himself on a course toward college and a limitless future.
"He was gunned down by someone who was close in age but who took a different path," Villaraigosa said.
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FROM THE HOMICIDE REPORT ON LATIMES.COM
'This breaks my heart and I don't even know this family'
The Homicide Report blog on latimes.com received dozens of comments from readers regarding the shooting death of 17-year-old high school football player Jamiel Shaw Jr. near his Mid-City home by alleged gang members. Here's a sampling:
"It just makes me UPSET and ANGRY about all the killings that have been going around for the past couple of months. Latinos killing blacks. Vice versa. This has GOT TO STOP!!!! . . . . I'm a Latina and my husband happens to be black. We are constantly getting dirty looks from both sides. WHY? I believe as minorities living in L.A., in the U.S. for that matter, we should come together as one and not hate each other for being a few shades darker or lighter."
-- Universal Love
"This breaks my heart and I don't even know this family. But as a mother of a 17-year-old son, I am constantly praying for his safety. One can never know when tragedy will strike, but you are never ready for it and it totally turns your world upside down. My prayer is that the family will draw closer to Jesus and allow him to comfort you all in this very difficult time."
"This is only two streets from my house. And last night there was another shooting . . . month ago, a rape. The recent gang activity has turned what was a family neighborhood into a place where no one walks on the streets."
"I don't know Jamiel or his family, but I feel a fraction of their pain. I cried when I saw the story on the news. Life seems to have little or no value anymore, especially the life of a black male."
-- A. Smith