Boy Sentenced for Murder of Seal Beach Gas Station Clerk


A 15-year-old gang member laughed as he left a courtroom Friday after being sentenced to 29 years to life in state prison in connection with the murder of a Seal Beach gas station clerk.

Mario Luis Ortiz, a baby-faced member of a Long Beach gang, was the first juvenile in Orange County convicted under a year-old state law that allows children as young as 14 to be punished as adults for such violent crimes as murder and armed robbery. The age limit previously was 16.

Ortiz also might be the first juvenile in the state to be convicted and sentenced under the new law, Deputy Dist. Atty. Vickie L. Hix said.


In handing down the maximum sentence, Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore described the boy as a “malignant growth on society.”

Ortiz, who turned and grinned at the victim’s family upon hearing his sentence, will be housed at the California Youth Authority until he is 16, then transferred to state prison, the prosecutor said. He will not be eligible for parole for at least 22 to 24 years.

Hix said the boy’s behavior in the courtroom showed an “attitude of arrogance” that she has seen displayed by other gang members convicted of crimes.

“Gang members take a conviction on a serious crime like a badge of honor,” she said. “They’re earning their stripes.”

Ortiz, who was 14 at the time, was charged with murder for his role as an accomplice during the robbery March 12 at an Arco station on Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach. A 19-year-old companion was convicted of firing the shots that killed Danette Garrett while the two robbed the station of $160 in cash and sundries, including batteries, condoms and sunflower seeds.

“It was totally unnecessary,” Hix said of the crime. “What they were doing was eliminating the witness.”


Oscar Lemus, convicted as the gunman during a separate trial, was sentenced last month to life in prison without a chance for parole.

Ortiz admitted his role as an accomplice in a taped interview with police. During his trial in October, the boy’s lawyer challenged only the charge that the robbery was committed to benefit the gang.

Jurors deliberated 75 minutes before convicting the boy of murder and robbery, along with related allegations that he used a handgun and sought to benefit his gang through the crime. As a juvenile, he could not be charged with a special circumstance--that the murder occurred during a robbery--that might have resulted in a life prison term without parole.

Police and prosecutors said Ortiz and Lemus confronted the 33-year-old victim, who was working the night shift, after tricking her into opening a locked door of the gas station. Her body was found under a desk in an upstairs office, where she had been chased and shot three times in the back, authorities said.

Telephones and a computer printer also were discovered missing. The killers, authorities said, then sought to steer blame elsewhere by scrawling graffiti of a rival gang.

There were no witnesses to the shooting. But a fingerprint left on a packet of sunflower seeds found on the floor was traced to Ortiz, police said.


The teenager admitted his role in the robbery during a two-hour taped statement to police that was played during his trial, the prosecutor said. Ortiz told police he persuaded Garrett to open the door because she recognized him from earlier visits, according to testimony.

“If he hadn’t talked her into opening the door, the crime wouldn’t have occurred,” Hix said.

A short time before she was killed, the victim had moved to Long Beach from Florida after a failed marriage and was looking forward to starting a new life, her family has said. Her mother and a cousin, who have recounted her kindness, including her last act of letting the boy inside the store on a rainy night, on Friday urged the judge to impose a harsh sentence.

No one testified on his behalf, and his attorney could not be reached for comment.