Calling him a "ruthless killer who had no qualms about killing children," a Los Angeles County judge sentenced a gang member to death Friday for the murder of four people, including a 10-year-old boy fatally shot in one of the city's most notorious acts of gang violence.
Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said
One of those incidents involved the slayings of three people in what became known as the 49th Street Massacre, when a pair of gunmen wielding AK-47 rifles targeted children and others on the sidewalk of a quiet South Los Angeles street.
Killed on 49th Street on June 30, 2006, were David Marcial, 10; his uncle, Larry Marcial, 22; and Luis Cervantes, a 17-year-old neighbor. David's 12-year-old brother was seriously wounded in the attack. The boys had been riding their bicycles in front of their house when the gunmen opened fire.
Marcus said the shooting still stood out for its shocking violence, even after such recent national tragedies like the mass killings last year at a movie theater in Colorado and an elementary school in Connecticut.
"It was pure evil visiting the community," Marcus told a downtown Los Angeles courtroom packed with relatives of the victims and Smith.
He said that Smith must have known he was targeting children and cited a witness who testified that Smith told her after the shooting: "If they're old enough to shoot, they're old enough to get shot."
As Marcus spoke during the hearing, Smith frequently turned to smile at relatives and friends in the audience or to shake his head in apparent disagreement with the judge.
"He has laughed and smiled his way through these many courtroom sessions," the judge said at one point, "as if he was on a Friday night at a county fair."
The 49th Street shooting was one of several high-profile gang crimes that initially stoked fears among some of a possible race war. Witnesses described the gunmen as black; the victims were Latino.
But prosecutors argued that the motive for the killings had less to do with race and more with local gang rivalries. They argued Smith and another man, Ryan T. Moore, mistook the victims for rival gang members in a tit-for-tat feud over turf, drugs and pride. Moore was convicted during a separate trial and sentenced to death.
None of the victims had any gang connections.
Smith was also convicted of murdering Bani Hinojosa, a 27-year-old construction worker who was bringing home milk to his wife and children on March 31, 2006, when he was shot in the back.
The judge said during Friday's sentencing hearing that race did play a role in the murders. He described Smith as a "shotcaller" or leader of a local gang and noted that all the victims were Latinos living in an area claimed by a rival gang whose members were predominantly Latino.