A state appeals court panel today upheld a gang member's conviction for murdering five people in Los Angeles and Santa Monica during a crime spree that stretched over more than three years.
The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense's claim that some of William Vasquez's convictions were not supported by the evidence.
The defense also unsuccessfully contended that the number of the charges served to inflame the jury.
"Simply put, the Santa Monica murders were no more violent and senseless (than) some of the other charged murders and did not unduly inflame the jury," Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein wrote on behalf of the panel in a 45-page ruling, with Associate Justices Thomas L. Willhite Jr. and Nora M. Manella concurring.
Vasquez -- who is serving a life term without the possibility of parole - - was convicted in December 2010 of first-degree murder for the Jan. 27, 2002, killing of Alex Haro; the Dec. 3, 2003, slaying of Kevin Walton; the March 5, 2005, killings of Jonathan Hernandez and Hector Bonilla; and the Sept. 24, 2005, shooting death of Jesse Becerra.
He was also found guilty of one count of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm.
In the Los Angeles killings, Haro and Walton were each shot three times, while Becerra suffered 20 gunshot wounds, including nine to the back of the head, according to the appellate court panel's ruling.
Hernandez and Bonilla were shot to death during a private party at the Moose Lodge in Santa Monica. Hernandez was shot 17 times, while Bonilla sustained eight gunshot wounds, according to the ruling.
Two other men, Jose Mojarro and Erick Nunez, were convicted separately of first-degree murder for the killings of Hernandez and Bonilla, and were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Their convictions have already been upheld.
Vasquez was sentenced in March 2012 to life behind bars, with no chance for parole. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler also ordered Vasquez to serve an additional 156 years to life, saying that his intention was to give the 31-year-old defendant "as much time as the law allows."
Just before being sentenced, Vasquez said, "I want to tell you guys I didn't do none of that stuff."
The judge responded that the defendant's claim of innocence, given the facts of the case, was "embarrassing."
Prosecutors had initially sought the death penalty against Vasquez, but opted not to seek a third penalty phase trial after two juries deadlocked on whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
--City News Service