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Gang member convicted in racially motivated '08 Canoga Park slaying

A jury in Van Nuys finds Martin Sotelo, a Latino, guilty of first-degree murder with two special circumstance allegations — murder due to the victim's race, and murder in a drive-by shooting — in the slaying of a black bowling alley worker.

April 15, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • James Shamp was shot and killed outside the Canoga Park bowling alley where he worked in 2008.
James Shamp was shot and killed outside the Canoga Park bowling alley where…

A jury in Van Nuys finds Martin Sotelo, a Latino, guilty of first-degree murder with two special circumstance allegations — murder due to the victim's race, and murder in a drive-by shooting — in the slaying of a black bowling alley worker.

A 26-year-old Latino was convicted Thursday in the racially motivated killing of a black Canoga Park bowling alley employee in 2008.

A jury in Van Nuys deliberated less than three hours before finding Martin Sotelo, the last of four defendants to face charges in the case, guilty of first-degree murder with two special circumstance allegations — murder due to the victim's race, and murder in a drive-by shooting.

Sotelo was also found guilty on other allegations, including evading officers after the shooting, and of second-degree robbery related to a separate incident.

Sotelo's lawyers insisted their client harbored no prejudice against blacks and had no intention of committing a hate killing on Dec. 22, 2008, the night the victim, James Shamp, was killed. But prosecutors said Sotelo was seeking bragging rights and trying to live up to his gang moniker, "Outlaw," when he willfully participated in the murder.

Shamp, 48, a married father of two, was taking out the trash at the Canoga Bowl when, prosecutors say, Latino gang members pulled up in a car. Sotelo was behind the wheel.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Daniel Akemon of the Hardcore Gang Division said Sotelo helped fellow Canoga Park Alabama gang member Richard Bordelon gun down Shamp "in cold blood because of the color of his skin, in a display of senseless violence and a complete disregard for human life."

Akemon argued that Sotelo had stopped the vehicle so Bordelon could take aim like a sniper. Bordelon's bullet struck Shamp "right through the heart," Akemon said.

In March 2010, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Martin Herscovitz sentenced Bordelon to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 47 years to life, after he admitted being the shooter in Shamp's killing. Bordelon was also ordered to pay $14,386 in restitution.

A juvenile defendant, who was 15 at the time, also reached a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced on a juvenile-conspiracy charge.

A third defendant, Orlando Perez, a 25-year-old Latino, pleaded no contest to a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and was sentenced to three years and four months in state prison.

Akemon told jurors in closing arguments earlier this week that Sotelo and Bordelon were out that December evening looking to earn their respective nicknames of "Outlaw" and "Psycho."

And although they may not have gone to the Canoga Bowl in the 20100 block of Vanowen Street looking for a black man, "they spotted a prize target and that's when they decided to kill," Akemon said.

But defense attorney Robert Schwartz argued that his client, who has African American friends and had even dated a black woman, did not harbor prejudice against blacks and was not seeking to kill them.

As far as Sotelo understood, he and his companions "were out to pick up some girls," Schwartz said. "But something switched in the mind of Bordelon."

Bordelon decided he was going to rob somebody for spending money, Schwartz said. But a robbery attempt failed when the young woman they accosted screamed. Bordelon then directed Sotelo to the Canoga Bowl, according to Schwartz.

The plan was not to commit a racial crime, but to get some money, the defense attorney argued, asking the jury rhetorically: "How many African Americans would you expect to find at a bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley?"

But jurors rejected his argument, convicting Sotelo on all counts.

"I'm very disappointed that the jury didn't spend more time considering the evidence, but I understand how they could have reached those verdicts," Schwartz said. "It's indisputable that killing Mr. Shamp was a reprehensible act committed by co-defendant Mr. Bordelon. But we were unable to convince them to separate Mr. Sotelo's culpability from that of the shooter."

Sotelo faces life in prison without the possibility of parole and is expected to be sentenced May 17.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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