[UPDATED at end of story] California's uncompromising anti-gang laws reached inside an Orange County courtroom this morning, gave a Buena Park teenager severe punishment and left the defendant's family, who firmly believe the kid's innocent, terribly distraught.
Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg sentenced Jesus Arturo Aguirre to a life prison term after a jury found him guilty in March of participating in a 2010 attempted shotgun murder of a rival gangster, Ramon Magana with the Anaheim Barrio Pobre gang.
Though Aguirre was just 16 years old at the time of the shooting, Brett Brian--an accomplished veteran prosecutor--charged him as an adult and, now at the age of 18, Aguirre will take his one way bus trip to one of the state's notorious hellhole prisons.
Aguirre's family, including his mother and father, Jesus Aguirre and Silvia Giron, gathered in Froeberg's Santa Ana courtroom hoping for a miracle. Aguirre and Giron had appealed to the news media to help stop what they see as a travesty of justice. They have a long list of complaints about what they see as holes in the government's case. But, given the guilty verdicts and the gang enhancements, the judge had no leeway.
"It doesn't give me any great pleasure to impose this sentence on this young man," a solemn Froeberg said to the parents. "But gang violence in this county astounds me. It's not your fault. It's your son's fault. Gang activity is a no-win activity. Society won't tolerate it and I won't tolerate it."
After Froeberg advised Aguirre of his right to appeal the conviction within 60 days, bailiffs escorted the convicted felon away to life of daily misery.
In the hallway outside of the courtroom, a weeping Giron repeated yelled, "¿Por que?" She doesn't believe her son is a member of a criminal street gang and played no role in the shooting incident. In fact, she maintains that her son wasn't even present at the time someone fired two shotgun blasts.
"He's being accused of a crime he did not commit," the defendant's parents said in a lengthy, passionate written statement prior to the hearing. "He is being charged with things that are not true . . . There is no evidence pointing to him--DNA, fingerprints or gunshot residue . . . The Buena Park police and District Attorney know who committed this crime and nonetheless still blame my son."
The parents, who note that the shotgun blasts contained birdshot, have called their son "very noble," said "he has a good heart" and rejected Brian's generous pre-trial guilty plea offer.
It's true that the police case against Aguirre was weak at one point. Prosecutors first rejected filing attempted murder charges. Witnesses, who originally claimed he'd been involved, later changed their stories, a move police attributed to a fear of retaliation.
Law enforcement files show that Aguirre is a "self-admitted," active member of the Eastside Buena Park criminal street gang, has at least three gang tattoos, liked to wear gang clothes and, at the age of 14, was caught tagging. A year before the shotgun incident, Anaheim police found him with other gang members in a stolen vehicle, according to records. It also didn't help his cause that he refused to discuss the shooting incident with authorities even after his conviction.
Ironically, Aguirre--who dreamed of studying business in college before becoming a car designer--would be free today except that Buena Park detective James Woo sent one of the defendant's friends into his jail cell and surreptitiously recorded their conversation for four hours. According to police, he acknowledged on the recording he was the person who handed the shooter the loaded 12-gauge shotgun prior to the shooting. (The blasts did not inflict serious wounds to Magana.) That jail tape proved to be Exhibit A in this defendant's demise.
Under an aiding and abetting statute, a person is guilty of attempted murder in California if he participates in planning or executing the crime; not just the person who pulls the trigger. In this case, legal particulars aren't satisfying to the Aguirre's family, especially because the actual shooter has never been charged.
Fullerton-based defense attorney Randall T. Longwith called his client "basically a good kid." According to Longwith, an appeal will be filed in coming days. "It's a sad situation," he said. "This happened when he was 16."
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"He's a kid," said Aguirre's cousin outside of Froeberg's courtroom. "He doesn't deserve life [in prison]. He's no criminal."
The legal battle now turns to the California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana.
UPDATE: The state department of corrections didn't give Aguirre any housing break. They've locked him inside one of the toughest penitentiaries in the nation: Pelican Bay State Prison.