Alleged gang member charged with murder of prep football star

LOS ANGELES -- A 19-year-old man, charged with capital murder in what police said was the gang-related shooting of a high school football star, was released from jail just 28 hours before the killing.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Pedro Espinoza, a "documented member" of the powerful, far-reaching 18th Street gang, was charged with a single count of murder Tuesday -- shortly before the funeral for Jamiel Shaw Jr., a running back looking forward to his senior year at Los Angeles High School.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said Espinoza's arraignment was postponed until March 25 so he could be assigned a public defender. The charge of murder with special circumstance could carry the death penalty.

Shaw, 17, was gunned down March 2 as he was walking home from the mall, talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend. Just yards from his house, a car pulled up next to him, police said, and one of the two men in the car asked Shaw whether he belonged to a gang.

When Shaw didn't answer, he was shot twice. Shaw's father, Jamiel Shaw Sr., was in their home awaiting his son's return and bolted outside when he heard the shots. He found his son next to a tree, mortally wounded. The father and son had planted the tree three years ago as part of the city's "Million Trees" initiative to improve the area, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Police and Shaw's family said Shaw was not in a gang, and the shooting is not believed to be a hate crime.

Los Angeles police chief William Bratton said Espinoza had been released from jail March 1 after serving time for an assault case. Police also are seeking a second suspect in the Shaw case.

"It was spontaneous," Bratton said. "[Espinoza] was a gang member. He saw someone else he thought was from an opposing gang, and he immediately, almost intuitively, popped out of that car and shot that young boy twice.

"He assassinated him just on the belief the other individual may have been a gang member. That is what we are up against in this city, sociopaths like that who just got out of jail and within a day had a gun and in an instant took that young boy's life."

Police, acting on tips from the public, arrested Espinoza late Friday night, authorities said. He is being held without bail.

Shaw's family said recruiters from Stanford and Rutgers had called to express interest in Shaw and request transcripts. Shaw was named the most valuable player of his high school team and voted the Southern League's most valuable player in 2007.

His teammates, clad in their white and blue football jerseys, attended the funeral Tuesday, and a bouquet of blue and white flowers was placed on top of Shaw's blue and silver casket.

Shaw's mother, Anita Shaw, is an Army sergeant who was serving her second tour of duty in Iraq when she was notified by Army officials of her son's death.

Shaw's parents have denounced the gang activity that recently has escalated in the Los Angeles area.
Anita Shaw, comparing the gang members who allegedly killed her son to those she whom was fighting in Iraq, said to CNN, "To me, they're terrorists."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.