For 24-year-old Jesus Aguirre, Christmas came two days early when Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the Orange County native freed after serving less than seven years of an original 35 years to life prison term.
Brown cited Aguirre’s rehabilitation, including performing good deeds while in custody and abandoning the Eastside Buena Park criminal street gang, as well as the public protest his outraged parents organized when the district attorney’s office charged the 16-year-old boy as an adult and sought maximum punishment for his role in an attempted murder.
“[Aguirre] dropped out of his gang and has devoted himself to self-improvement,” the governor declared in the Dec. 23 “Commutation of Sentence” order. “He has never been disciplined for any misconduct during his incarceration, and has stayed away from drugs, gangs and violence. He earned his GED and is currently taking college classes. He has participated in self-help programs, including Narcotics Anonymous and Alternatives to Violence, and he routinely receives exceptional ratings from his work supervisors.”
Brown added that one prison teacher reported that Aguirre “carries himself well, gets his work done, and is always willing to help his classmates; he has made great strides in his rehabilitation.”
Aguirre’s life officially collapsed in 2010 when he obeyed the orders of his older Eastside Buena Park Gang bosses to show up for the ambush and assault of a rival gangster who’d somehow offended their sensibilities. Though the victim was wounded from several shots, the murder attempt failed because of the weak ammunition used. Arriving police arrested Aguirre fleeing from the scene.
Detectives fooled the teenager by locking him in a jail cell that had been secretly wired, placing a fellow friendly gangster with him, anticipating they would yap about the crime and hitting gold when the suspect described more than the gang’s plan. Aguirre, who sported multiple gang tattoos, admitted to his pal that he’d been the person who’d handed the shooter the loaded weapon, thereby assuming penal code liability for all the acts committed by the would-be killer.
Superior Court Judge William Froeberg used the original sentencing hearing to note he was mandated by the state legislature to view a gang member committing a violent felony with severity and, with Aguirre’s family cursing and sobbing, issued a sentence of 35 years to life.
“It doesn’t give me any great pleasure to impose this sentence on this young man,” the judge stated. “Gang activity is a no-win activity. Society won’t tolerate it, and I won’t either.”
(During the hearing, I was the only journalist present and couldn’t help recall the 2006 case of Elizabeth Rothwell in Huntington Beach. Rothwell fatally stabbed an 18-year-old musician in the jugular vein without provocation during a party and then gloated obscenely. She received a 16-year prison term.)
The California Court of Appeal determined four years after the Aguirre-related shooting that the teenager was guilty, but had received ineffective legal counsel during the trial’s punishment stage.
At a new sentencing hearing, he received a punishment of 7 years for his role in the attempted murder and 10 years for a criminal street gang membership enhancement.
Aguirre has been most recently housed at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.