A 19-year-old reputed gang member was ordered to stand trial last week for allegedly killing 17-year-old standout Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw Jr. Following a two-day hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bob Bowers Jr. said he found “sufficient cause” to require Pedro Espinoza to proceed to trial on a murder charge, along with a special circumstance gang allegation. Espinoza—who is jailed without bail—is due back at the downtown courthouse for arraignment July 3. Prosecutors have not yet decided if they will seek the death penalty.
The hearing included testimony from two of Espinoza’s cousins, who recanted their earlier statements that Espinoza had confessed to them because police were threatening them or their mother. Pablo Espinoza testified that he told police his cousin had confessed to killing the football player on March 2, but he said last Thursday, “that was a lie.” He contended that he fabricated his story because the police detectives questioning him threatened to arrest his mother and deport her. “You were making it up?” Deputy Public Defender Jorge Guzman asked the prosecution witness.
“Yes,” he responded.
Another prosecution witness, Javier Espinoza, said detectives “just kept pushing” him when he maintained that he didn’t know anything about his cousin, Pedro, being involved in Shaw’s killing.
He said he only told police that Pedro Espinoza had confessed to the killing was because “they were threatening me” and telling him that he was going to be booked for murder and would spend 20 years in prison. Javier Espinoza said that his account was “all made up” and that the details he provided came from what he had heard at school from other students who believed Shaw was a gang member.
“It was just made up,” he said about what he told police. Los Angeles police Detective John Shafia, who was the prosecution’s final witness, denied threatening either of the men with incarceration or the deportation of their mother.
Another prosecution witness, Juan Torres, who was a neighbor of the Shaws, testified that he has known Pedro Espinoza since high school and knows he is a gang member. He said his father told him that a man named “Pedro” had stopped by to see him the night Shaw was killed, and that he later went at the behest of police to look for Espinoza. He said he ran into Espinoza at a hot dog stand and Espinoza indicated he had been looking for him.
Espinoza asked if something was going on in his neighborhood, and Torres said he responded that someone had died. He testified that Espinoza, at one point in the conversation, uttered the initials “BK”—which he understood to mean “Blood Killer.”
“At some point, did the defendant, Pedro Espinoza, laugh?” Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace asked.
`Yes,” the witness responded. “He said, ‘BK all day. I’m going to wipe the Bloods out.”’
Under cross-examination, Torres said Shaw hung out with Rollin’ 20s gang members but repeatedly denied to him that he was in a gang. Shaw—who lived in an area claimed by Bloods gang members— was shot to death about three houses away from his home. He was killed one day after
Espinoza was released from county jail, where he had been serving time for assault with a deadly weapon, police said.
Authorities believe Espinoza may be in the country illegally. Under cross-examination by Espinoza’s attorney, Los Angeles police Detective Mark Holguin testified that he had received information suggesting that Shaw belonged to a gang.
“It was never ever proven or substantiated,” the police detective said.
He acknowledged that the victim’s teenage girlfriend told another police officer that Shaw was a gang member. Los Angeles police Officer Winston Lee testified that a red belt containing the symbol “20”—which Shaw had been wearing the night he was shot to death—was consistent with gang affiliation. Lee also testified that he believed Espinoza was “a very active member of the 18th Street gang” who was willing to go into the territory of rivals.
Espinoza was arrested March 7 by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division and charged four days later with Shaw’s murder—just as Shaw’s funeral service was about to begin. Shaw’s mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was serving in Iraq when her son was slain and has called for community action to stop gang violence.