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Gang Member Convicted in Teen’s Murder : Verdict: Jurors take only two hours to find Miguel Camarena, 19, guilty in February, 1993, shooting of student near Santa Ana’s Century High School.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury took just two hours Thursday to convict a gang member of first-degree murder for shooting a teen-age soccer player near Century High School, a killing that has come to symbolize senseless gang violence on city streets.

Miguel Camarena, 19, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced later this year for the Feb. 26, 1993, murder of Jose Luis Lopez, 17, who was shot in the head as he drove to school.

Orange County Superior Court jurors rejected defense arguments that Camarena is mentally retarded and never intended to kill the teen-ager. Camarena was also convicted of lying in wait for his victim and committing a gang-related crime.

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“The jury felt he knew what he was doing and intended to do it,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Rozenberg. “They felt that Mr. Camarena was very street-smart, very streetwise and knew exactly what he was doing.”

Two days before the shooting, Camarena lost a fistfight with the victim’s brother. Rozenberg offered jurors a lesson in gang life during the two-week trial, explaining that Camarena was following a key tenet of street justice that requires gang members to “pay back” perceived wrongs.

A senior and a varsity soccer player, Jose Lopez watched but did not participate in the fight, Rozenberg said. Even though Camarena’s gripe was with Adrian Lopez, he shot Jose Lopez, the prosecutor said.

Deputy Public Defender James Appel said he was surprised by the swiftness of the verdict.

He said he believes jurors were eager to convict his client because he was involved in gangs--despite his plea that jurors decide the case on the facts before them and not on any notions about gangs.

“I think juries are so caught up in this gang stuff, they absolutely refuse to treat these kids as individuals,” Appel said. “Maybe that’s what happened in this case.”

Camarena is mentally retarded and had only armed himself to discourage another fight, the defense attorney said.

“He was not trying to kill anyone,” Appel said.

Appel said he hopes his client will be spared state prison and will be sentenced instead to the California Youth Authority because Camarena was a juvenile when the murder took place. Camarena was ordered to stand trial as an adult.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James A. Jackman is expected to sentence Camarena later this year after CYA staff performs a sentencing evaluation on Camarena.

The trial offered a close examination of the harsh life on the streets.

After his brother was shot in the head, Adrian Lopez ran to the high school, crying out that his brother had been shot. Rozenberg said gang members at the school just laughed.

“What are we as a society going to allow?” Rozenberg asked jurors during his closing argument. “They laugh when people die. They think it is funny.”

Lopez was the fourth Southland student to die by gunfire in the month leading up to his death, and the shooting was the eighth near Orange County schools in the 1992-93 school year.


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