A Los Angeles jury ordered the death penalty Monday for a 22-year-old Latino gang member convicted in the hate-crime killing of a 14-year-old black girl and the stabbing death of a potential witness in the Harbor Gateway area.
Jonathan Fajardo, who was 18 at the time of the killings, nonchalantly looked around the courtroom as the verdict was read. The jury found that he should receive death for his first-degree murder convictions for the slayings of Cheryl Green and Christopher Ash.
Fajardo was eligible for the death penalty because the jury accepted special circumstance allegations including multiple murder, killing a witness, committing a hate crime based on race and committing the crime for a gang. Fajardo was a member of the 204th Street gang, which prosecutors said intimidated and attacked African Americans in Harbor Gateway.
According to court testimony, Fajardo walked up and opened fire at a group of young black people hanging out in a driveway on Dec. 15, 2006. Cheryl Green was killed and three others were injured. Ash was found on a roadside two weeks later, stabbed more than 60 times. Prosecutors said a group of gang members lured him to a garage and killed him because they suspected he was cooperating with authorities about Cheryl's death.
Cheryl's mother, Charlene Lovett, clutched her hands together tightly as the verdict was read, then wiped tears from her cheeks.
"Justice was served for my baby," she said afterward. "I feel her with me, here, right now."
Thomas White, Fajardo's defense attorney, said he would file motions for a new trial and for a reduced sentence, given his client's age and because he was, the lawyer said, dominated by older gang members.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Geoffrey Pope, another attorney representing Fajardo, urged jurors to give him a life sentence so he could "perhaps, perhaps atone for what he has done." Pope said Fajardo had long experienced depression and had an undiagnosed learning disability, which led to his being "labeled incorrectly" as lazy.
Between a mother who worked two jobs and a father who was in custody, he grew up in neglect, Pope said, adding that Fajardo's erratic, paranoid behavior was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms from when he was shot in a drive-by.
"He didn't choose the neighborhood where the 204th Street gang is entrenched," Pope told jurors.
But Dist. Atty. Gretchen Ford painted a far more chilling picture of the young man, saying he killed people "for sport and for fun."
"What you see is a monster," she said, noting that while in custody, Fajardo assaulted a deputy and was found carrying sharp instruments and a handcuff key.
Family members of the young victims took the stand and told jurors of their loss.
Cheryl Green was always happy and smiling, her family said. Prosecutors showed photo after photo of the girl laughing with her mouth open wide. She dreamed of being a pediatrician because she loved babies, her grandmother, Marlene Townes, testified.
"She just loved life, she loved being in it," Townes said.
Chanel Blish, Ash's sister, sobbed uncontrollably as she recalled how protective Ash was of his sisters and described how he always made her laugh.
"Because my dad is disabled and can't walk, I was going to have him walk me down the aisle," testified Blish, whose family has since moved to Texas. "Now, I can't even have that."
Fajardo is set to be sentenced Jan. 6.