Slaying suspect in U.S. illegally

Times Staff Writer

An alleged gang member accused of killing a 17-year-old high school student just one day after being released from jail has been living in the country illegally, possibly for more than a decade, federal immigration authorities said Saturday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has filed paperwork naming 19-year-old Pedro Espinoza, the suspect in the March 2 killing of Los Angeles High School football star Jamiel Shaw Jr., as a potential candidate for deportation.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, said an immigration hold was issued for Espinoza on March 13, nearly a week after he was arrested in connection with Shaw’s death.


No such hold was placed on Espinoza on March 1, the day he was released from a Los Angeles County jail after serving roughly four months for exhibiting a firearm and resisting arrest, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.

“We are going to follow up to determine whether or not we have had prior interactions with this individual,” Kice said.

The federal immigration agency confirmed the deportation filing on the same day that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa participated in a ceremony dedicating a memorial in Arlington Heights where Shaw was killed.

A highly regarded running back for his school’s football team, Shaw was named the Southern League’s most valuable player in 2007. He had drawn the interest of recruiters from Stanford and Rutgers universities, his family said.

The killing outraged civic leaders and reignited a citywide debate over the role that race has played in a recent spate of homicides.

Both the immigration agency and the Sheriff’s Department have employees who interview jail inmates about their immigration status. Those interviews can be undermined when inmates give aliases or inaccurate places of birth, authorities said.


After his most recent arrest, Espinoza was “uncooperative,” telling immigration investigators he did not know where he was born or the whereabouts of his family, Kice said.

The next day, investigators found a relative of the suspect who said Espinoza had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico when he was 4, Kice said.

In the greater Los Angeles area, the immigration agency files several thousand immigration holds each month on inmates who are considered deportable, Kice said. Those inmates are identified as deportable if they are living in the country illegally or if they are legal residents who have been convicted of certain crimes.

The immigration hold placed on Espinoza will mean little if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

“If this prosecution goes forward and he’s convicted, in all likelihood he’s looking at a very, very severe sentence,” Kice said.