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Gang member charged in L.A. teen's death

A man police say is a member of a Los Angeles street gang was charged with murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of a high school football star.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man police said is a member of a Los Angeles street gang was charged with murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of a high school football star.

Pedro Espinoza, 19, is accused of killing 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr., a standout running back at Los Angeles High School, yards from the student's home in the Crenshaw area on March 2.

Espinoza was charged with a single murder count with a special-circumstance allegation that could make him eligible for the death penalty, said Shiara M. Davila, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

The special circumstance was that it was a gang-related shooting, Davila said. Prosecutors also included special allegations that the crime involved the personal use of a firearm and that it was a gang-related felony offense.

Espinoza was arrested Friday and appeared in court Tuesday for arraignment, but it was postponed until March 25 at his request while a public defender is assigned to him, Davila said.

Shaw's killing was amid an outbreak of gang-related violence that has victimized schoolchildren and teens around the city.

At Shaw's funeral Tuesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told mourners that he thinks Shaw would have wanted more than words of remembrance.

"He'd tell us that the madness of gang and gun violence metastasizing in our streets absolutely has got to stop," Villaraigosa said to applause. "I think he'd tell us that we can't give in to fear, that we must stand up to it."

Shaw's mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was sent home from Iraq after her son was slain.

Shaw's teammates and coach, Hardy Williams, also attended the funeral. A bouquet of blue-and-white flowers — his school colors — lay atop the blue-and-silver casket.

Shaw, the Southern League's most valuable player as a junior last year, had drawn interest from the football programs at Stanford and Rutgers universities, Williams said.

Espinoza is a "documented member" of the 18th Street gang, Davila said.

Police have said two Hispanic gang members approached Shaw, who was black, and asked him where he was from — meaning the name of his gang — and then shot him.

Shaw was not in a gang, authorities and his family said. And while the races of the victim and attacker were different, Espinoza was not charged with a hate crime and Shaw's father has said he did not believe the attack was racially motivated.

It was one of several gang-related attacks that killed or wounded youngsters in recent weeks, including an attack on a family left a 6-year-old boy on life support and another that wounded five schoolchildren.