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Gang 'tax collector' gets life for shooting that left infant dead

October 10, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • A street vendor wheels a cart in 2007 near the spot where an infant was killed days earlier in a gang-related shooting.
A street vendor wheels a cart in 2007 near the spot where an infant was killed… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

A gang "tax collector" who helped set up 2007 shooting in a bustling Los Angeles shopping district that claimed the life of a 3-week-old boy was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Juvenal Cardenas Mejia, 40, was the last of seven defendants convicted in the  shooting near MacArthur Park.

"It's been a long time," Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila said this week. "Now, finally the last defendant that participated in this murder is being held accountable."

The shooting sparked outrage in the community and even drew the wrath of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that allegedly put out a death warrant for those involved.

Mejia was convicted in August of first-degree murder with special circumstances because the slaying was deemed to be gang related. A jury also convicted him of attempted murder, extortion and conspiracy, among other charges.

The shooting claimed the life of Luis Angel Garcia, who was struck in the heart as he lay sleeping in a stroller. The child's mother was wounded in the incident, as was a vendor who'd allegedly been targeted for refusing to pay $50 in "rent" for operating in the gang's territory.

Mejia, prosecutors said, had been working for the 18th Street Gang for more than two years, "extorting street vendors."

"The shooter didn't know which vendor wasn't paying," he said. "Mejia's role was to walk up, point out the vendor to be shot and one of the bullets ended up hitting the baby in the chest, killing him."

An autopsy photo, Avila said, is the only known picture of the boy.

Over the course of several years after the shooting, three defendants were convicted together and sentenced to life in prison without parole, while another three struck plea bargains in exchange for their testimony.

Mejia was the last to face prosecution, Avila said, because he fled to Mexico. He was arrested in September 2011 in Mexico and extradited the following year.

"As we've shown with Mejia's capture, the long arm of the law reaches across borders to prosecute fugitives," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement at the time. "It's my hope that the slain child's family finds comfort in the knowledge that the Los Angeles district attorney's office will not rest in its pursuit of justice."

None of the victims or their family members spoke at the sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Avila said, though Mejia briefly claimed his innocence before a judge cut him off.

Mejia's attorney, Antonio Bestard, said the case was "very difficult."

"He got what all the others really got," Bestard said.


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Twitter: @jillcowan

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