LOS ANGELES (CBS) —A Los Angeles High School football player was shot to death by a gang member because he carried a red Spider-Man backpack that suggested he belonged to a rival gang, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.
Opening statements began Monday in the trial of Pedro Espinoza, who is accused of shooting 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, Jr. on March 2, 2008, as he talked with his girlfriend on the phone just feet from his Arlington Heights home. Espinoza had been released from jail just two days before Shaw's murder, after serving time for assault with a deadly weapon.
If jurors convict the 23-year-old defendant of first-degree murder, the jury will have determine if he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace told the six-man, six-woman jury that Shaw's Spider-Man backpack caught Espinoza's attention.
"That was enough for Pedro Espinoza to figure in his head that Jamiel Shaw was a possible enemy of (his gang)," Grace said. Espinoza had associated the red color of the backpack with the rival Bloods gang, and the fact that Jamiel Shaw was a young African American made him an even bigger target.
Shaw was not associated with any gangs.
In August 2010, Espinoza's attorneys asked for the trial to be moved outside Los Angeles County because of media coverage they said was both "sensational and inflammatory." That motion was denied.
Shaw's parents unsuccessfully sued the county, alleging that Espinoza was a "dangerous felon and immigration violator" and should have been turned over to immigration authorities rather than being freed from jail on March 1, 2008. Espinoza had been serving time for assault with a deadly weapon.
Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, who was deployed to Iraq when her son was killed, and Jamiel Shaw Sr. mounted an unsuccessful petition drive aimed at getting a law passed that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrant gang members and hand them over to federal authorities.
Espinoza was arrested March 7, 2008 and was charged four days later with Shaw's murder just as the teen's funeral was about to begin. He has been jailed without bail since.
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