[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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.