William Masters, the man who shot and killed one graffiti tagger in Sun Valley last winter and wounded another, was found guilty Monday of two misdemeanor weapons violations.
"I'm hopeful that it sends a message that we are not in the Wild West days, where everyone is allowed to carry a weapon to administer justice," said Deputy City Atty. George Schell, who prosecuted the case.
But Masters, 35, a part-time actor and would-be screenwriter, vowed to appeal the conviction, arguing that he has the right to carry a gun to protect himself.
Masters' attorney, C.D. (Chuck) Michel, said the appeal will argue that California's laws on concealed weapons are unconstitutional. That argument was rejected by Van Nuys Municipal Judge Lloyd Nash. The judge had refused to allow Masters to claim that he needed to hide his gun because he feared that if police found him with a loaded weapon, he might mistakenly be attacked by officers, and that he feared that other gang members might appear and attack him.
"People are dying because they can't defend themselves," Michel said after the trial. "The choice is either to get killed or break the law to save your own life."
Sentencing was set for Nov. 8. Masters faces a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail for carrying a concealed weapon and one year for carrying a loaded weapon. But Nash said earlier in the trial that he would not consider a sentence longer than a year.
According to police, Masters was out for a walk shortly after midnight, pulled a gun out of a fanny pack and fatally shot Rene Arce in an altercation that apparently arose after Masters came upon Arce and David Hillo tagging a freeway overpass. He wounded Hillo.
Masters has said that the pair threatened him with a screwdriver and demanded his wallet after he threatened to report them for tagging. He was never charged with murder or manslaughter.
The events of the early hours of Jan. 30 drew national attention. Many in the Mexican American community, upon hearing that Masters referred to Arce and Hillo as "skinhead Mexicans" in discussions with the police, have come to view him as a vigilante who went out that night looking for trouble. But gun advocates have rallied around Masters, saying that he would have been killed had he not drawn his weapon.