A 16-year-old who confessed to randomly killing a California Highway Patrol officer in order to impress a street gang he wanted to join pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday.
Valentino Mitchell Arenas admitted he’d been searching for a police officer -- any officer -- to kill on April 21 when he happened upon Thomas Steiner as the five-year CHP veteran was leaving a Pomona courthouse.
Arenas’ lawyer, Joe Borges, said he hopes Arenas will be given the possibility of parole when he is sentenced in January -- something prosecutors staunchly oppose. Arenas entered his plea before West Covina Superior Court Judge Thomas Fall.
Steiner, 35, who had been testifying in several traffic cases, was shot repeatedly, including in the head, and died at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Arenas was arrested that day.
“Just goes to show you the whole stupidity of the gang mentality,” said Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
“Someone would go out and execute a person just because they were wearing a uniform. He’ll have a great deal of time to think about it.”
“He’s going to prison for the reminder of his natural life,” said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. Because of his age, Arenas was not eligible for the death penalty.
Borges said it was best that his client take responsibility for the crime and hope for a lenient sentence.
“He had confessed on video, the evidence was overwhelming,” Borges said. “Because of his youth, the sentencing judge has the discretion to give him life with the possibility of parole. That was the reason; to give him the hope of getting out someday.”
Steiner lived in Long Beach and worked out of the CHP’s Santa Fe Springs office, where he was responsible for ticketing speeding trucks in eastern Los Angeles County. He left behind a wife, a 13-year-old stepson and a 3-year-old son.
Arenas came from a troubled family. Arenas and his father have done drugs together, according to Borges. Several members of Arenas’ family have been linked to the 12th Street Pomona gang.
Jerome Rucker, who once taught Arenas, said the slightly built youth was quick to fight, even though he often lost. He made it known he aspired to be part of the gang. He “wanted to be associated with something,” Rucker said.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.