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Teen who murdered baby in dad's arms gets 90 years to life

Prosecutors say he fired because he mistakenly thought the father, wearing a purple T-shirt, was a member of a rival gang.

June 21, 2013|By Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times
  • Donald Ray Dokins, 16, turns toward his lawyer during sentencing at the Compton Courthouse on Friday. He was 15 at the time of the crime.
Donald Ray Dokins, 16, turns toward his lawyer during sentencing at the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Sixteen-year-old Donald Ray Dokins' short stature and baby face belie the crime he committed: the fatal shooting of a 1-year-old boy in the arms of his proud and doting father.

As he prepared to sentence the teenager, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Pat Connolly could barely contain his contempt.

"You have no intestinal fortitude to sit up and look at me," Connolly said to Dokins, who was staring at the floor, avoiding the judge's gaze. "You have hatred in your heart that I can't understand."

HOMICIDE REPORT: L.A. County's victims

Prosecutors say that on June 4, 2012, Dokins, a then-15-year-old gang member, rode up on a bicycle to a family gathered outside a home in Watts. He drew a revolver and opened fire, killing 14-month-old Angel Mauro Cortez Vega and wounding his 21-year-old father, Mauro Cortez. Dokins, authorities say, mistakenly believed the father was a member of a rival gang because of the color of his T-shirt.

Prosecutors charged Dokins as an adult. Connolly sentenced him to 90 years to life in prison.

"You'll never have another opportunity to kill an innocent victim," Connolly said. "You're not capable of showing remorse today, but I hope some time you will be able to…. A man can't change the length of his life, but he can change its depth and substance."

Before the sentencing, friends and relatives of both the victims and Dokins addressed the court.

Dokins' brother Derrick Washington described his sibling as a straight-A student who wrote poetry. Washington broke down in tears, asserting his brother's innocence.

"He's not a monster. He's just a little boy," said Washington, wearing a rosary around his neck.

Another family member told the judge that Dokins wouldn't be around to raise his own daughter, who police said is close to the same age as the child he killed.

Susan Cuscuna, a creative-writing instructor in the state's juvenile-justice centers who has taught Dokins for more than a year, said he is a "very good" student.

"He's little in size and little inside, and he's frightened," Cuscuna said.

Dokins' killing of a 1-year-old Latino has required him to go into "the shoe" β€” a protective-custody unit, she said.

Threats to Dokins' life are so grave, said his attorney Winston Kevin McKesson, that he opposed broadcasts of the sentencing, fearing that additional pictures of his client in the media would jeopardize his life.

Connolly allowed journalists to photograph and record the proceedings, saying that Dokins "has made his bed, and he will now lie in it."

Liliana Nava, 23, narrated the brief life of her son, sobbing as she marked his exact age: 1 year, two months and three days. Her husband, Mauro, a construction worker, could not attend out of fear it would worsen his anxiety attacks, so she spoke on his behalf.

"We loved him, and to us, he was perfect," said Nava, wearing a pendant of an angel commemorating her son.

The baby's godmother, Marisol Perez, 34, described the day before the shooting, when she and her husband played with Angel in a nearby park. She read aloud a poem titled "Memories," eliciting tears from family and friends present.

"Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same," Perez said.

The sentencing capped a trial that concluded in early April when a jury at the Compton Courthouse found Dokins guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder after less than 90 minutes of deliberations, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Gomez, who prosecuted the case.

During the trial, three witnesses identified Dokins as the killer: a family friend present on the night of the shooting; Nava, who was standing near her husband; and a neighbor who saw Dokins fleeing from the scene on his bicycle.

A gray hooded sweatshirt β€” which witnesses identified the shooter as wearing β€” was found burning in an abandoned home, Gomez said. Investigators found Dokins' DNA on the sweatshirt's cuff and collar.

At the time of the shooting, Dokins' gang was actively feuding with a rival gang from Grape Street, authorities said. Prosecutors argued that Dokins shot both victims because the child's father was wearing a purple T-shirt, the signifying color of the rival gang. The child's father is "absolutely not" a member of a gang, Gomez said.

Since his arrest, Dokins has maintained his innocence.

McKesson, Dokins' attorney, sought a new trial Friday, arguing that the eyewitness testimony was inconsistent and that conclusive evidence was lacking. Investigators say they did not find the gun or the bicycle used in the slaying.

Connolly denied the motion, saying the evidence "overwhelmingly" showed Dokins' guilt.

matthew.hamilton@latimes.com

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