Macarthur Park shooting

Scene along South Alvarado Street across from MacArthur Park after a 3-week-old baby was killed in a shooting in 2007. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times / September 27, 2007)

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge cut off a man convicted for his role in the 2007 shooting death of an infant near MacArthur Park as he briefly claimed his innocence at a sentencing hearing Thursday.

Juvenal Cardenas Mejia -- a longtime gang "tax collector" who helped set up the shooting after a vendor refused to pay $50 in "rent" for operating in a gang's territory -- was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A bullet fired in the attack struck 3-week-old Luis Angel Garcia in the heart. His mother and the vendor were also wounded. 

Mejia, 40, was the last of seven defendants convicted in the shooting.

"It's been a long time," Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila said this week. "Now, finally, the last defendant that participated in this murder is being held accountable."

The shooting sparked outrage in the community and even drew the wrath of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that reportedly put out a death warrant for those involved.

Mejia, prosecutors said, had been working for the 18th Street Gang for more than two years, extorting street vendors.

"The shooter didn't know which vendor wasn't paying," Avila said. "Mejia's role was to walk up, point out the vendor to be shot and one of the bullets ended up hitting the baby in the chest, killing him."

Mejia was the last to face prosecution, Avila said, because he fled to Mexico. He was arrested in September 2011 in Mexico and extradited the next year.

None of the victims or their family members spoke at the sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Avila said.

Mejia's attorney, Antonio Bestard, said the case was "very difficult."

"He got what all the others really got," Bestard said.

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jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @JillCowan