To his family, friends and supporters, Orange County's Jesus Aguirre is a victim of a cruel criminal justice system determined to put an innocent teenager in California's toughest prison without any justification.
Aguirre's 2012 conviction prompted Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg to issue a life in prison punishment for an attempted murder that occurred when the defendant was 16 years old.
"Gang activity is a no win activity," Froeberg said at the hearing. "Society won't tolerate it and I won't tolerate it."
But Aguirre's supporters argue the defendant was never a gangster and didn't try or succeed in killing anybody.
They created a Facebook page, produced a documentary, lobbied reporters, handcrafted placards ("Free Jesus!" and "Stop criminalizing our youth") and held numerous public rallies to raise public awareness. They also fought the conviction at a California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana and, in February, lost. The following month they failed to win a rehearing.
They then took their outrage to the California Supreme Court, but that judicial body looked at the case file in April and this week announced there are no issues worthy of formal review.
Despite all the protests, the decision wasn't surprising. As demonstrated by multiple Eastside Buena Park gang tattoos adorning his flesh and several prior police encounters in gang situations, Aguirre was a hoodlum. On the day of the attempted murder of an unarmed, rival gangster, he followed orders to go to an apartment complex to flex the gang's territorial muscle with an ambush. He retrieved a gun loaded with birdshot and handed it to the shooter, a fellow gangster. The shooter repeatedly fired on the man but didn't succeed in killing him. Police eventually found a fleeing Aguirre, slyly placed him in a cell with one of his friends and secretly recorded him confess for hours to his role in the attempted murder. When he had chances to renounce his gang ties before his sentencing, he refused. The actual shooter escaped charges because he wasn't caught implicating himself on a recording.
An expensive appellate lawyer hired by the Aguirre family reasoned the hoodlum had gone to the apartment complex to shoot a different person, wounded the wrong man with the gun blasts, but shouldn't be charged with attempted murder because he didn't have the necessary premeditation to kill the actual victim.
The appellate court justices--David A. Thompson, Richard D. Fybel and Richard Aronson--forcefully rejected that line of attack on the conviction as the legal equivalent of a desperate Hail Mary pass.
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Like it or not, Californians years ago decided that joining a violent criminal street gang and participating in a potentially fatal shooting (even one as ridiculously stupid as this one) means the surrender of decades of your life.
Upshot: Aguirre--who lost his freedom at the age of 16 and is now a 20-year-old resident of the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison--one of the state's most dangerous, depressing penitentiaries--can't even ask for parole until about 2060.