58-Years-to-Life Term Given in Slayings

A reputed gang member was sentenced Tuesday to 58 years to life in prison for two slayings, including the murder of a church elder who was gunned down as he prayed in a Los Angeles telephone booth.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Michael Byrne sentenced Todd Lavera, 25, for his role as an accomplice in the murders of Leopoldo Salgado of Los Angeles and David Eugene Thompson, an elder of the Greater Zion Apostolic Church in Santa Ana.

Thompson, 27, of Tustin and Salgado, 48, were robbed and killed within 90 minutes of each other in South-Central Los Angeles in 1987. Prosecutors said Lavera and two other young men wanted money to buy beer.

“The whole set of circumstances is outrageous,” Byrne told Lavera.

Byrne also ordered Lavera to pay $10,000 each to the Salgado and Thompson families as restitution.


Lavera, who was not the triggerman, had faced life in prison without the possibility of parole. But Byrne said there was not enough evidence to show that Lavera intended to kill Thompson and Salgado.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Arnold, said that with credit for time already served, Lavera--a reputed member of the Hoover Gangster Crips street gang--could get out of prison in about 34 years.

“Byrne gave me everything I wanted,” Arnold said outside court.

Defense attorney Joe Ingber noted that Lavera was an accomplice and that one of the gunmen, Andre Moore, 19, was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. Ingber said he will appeal the case partly on the difference in punishment.

Moore, who was 16 when the killings occurred, pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Thompson in exchange for the dismissal of charges on the Salgado killing. Still awaiting trial on robbery and two first-degree murder charges is Tracy Lavell Carter, 21, of Los Angeles.

Thompson was killed in a telephone booth at Slauson Avenue and Broadway. Police said he had gone for help after a bus from his church broke down during an outing. As his wife waited in their car, three men accosted her, took $10 from her purse and then shot Thompson once in the head while he prayed.

Police said the men took Thompson’s 1986 Hyundai and drove to a liquor store where they bought beer and cigarettes. Arnold alleged that they returned to the store later and shot Salgado, a customer, to death when he and a friend refused to give them money.

“The whole thing has been very tough on her” Arnold said of Thompson’s widow. “The 5-year-old asks for daddy all the time, and Mrs. Thompson broke down on the witness stand during a trial. She, too, is a victim.”