A 37-year-old gang member was sentenced to 85 years to life in prison Thursday for killing a 16-year-old Burbank boy and trying to kill his four friends 20 years ago in Van Nuys.
Rodolfo Gallegos remained stoic as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bob Bowers Jr. announced his fate, which came more than a year after he was convicted for the death of Kenneth Caldera Jr.
Bowers said it’s a tragedy for both families: Kenneth’s family will never get to see him again, while at the same time Gallegos’ mother must also deal with the emotional and physical pain of losing her son for the crime he committed.
Moments before the sentencing, Kenneth Caldera Sr. took the podium, from which he stared at and spoke to his son’s killer.
He described driving to the courthouse that day and realizing that he missed all of his son’s life milestones, including his high school graduation, enrollment in the military and the champagne toast at his wedding.
“I missed him growing into a man,” he said.
Kenneth grew up in Burbank, where he played football at Burbank High and was named sophomore class prince of the homecoming court, family members said.
He was shot and killed on Aug. 24, 1991.
That day, Kenneth’s mother, Victoria Caldera, described in a letter read by a victim’s rights advocate to the court that she came home early to find every room spotless and clean.
Kenneth was grinning after having cleaned their home and asking to go to a pool party with friends.
She acquiesced, but not before going over curfew rules.
As he left home with his friends for the party, her last words to him were “I love you.”
Later that night, Kenneth and four friends left a house party and were in an idling car on Roscoe Boulevard in Van Nuys when a large vehicle pulled up next to them.
The then-16-year-old Gallegos held a gun outside the driver’s-side window and fired several rounds at the group’s car, witnesses said.
The Van Nuys neighborhood was the territory of Gallegos’ street gang, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Soon after the shooting, Gallegos fled to Mexico and got a job as an English teacher at the University of Guanajuato, Celaya. But he was eventually found and arrested Oct. 2, 2008, and extradited to the United States to face criminal charges.
The murder was a shock to Gallegos’ mother, Raquel Alvarez, she told the court.
“I am sorry for what happened,” she said.
Gallegos’ attorney told Bowers that she planned to appeal his conviction.