Jurors reached a guilty verdict Wednesday in the murder trial of Pedro Espinoza, who in 2008 shot to death Los Angeles High School football star Jamiel Shaw Jr.
Shaw was chatting with his girlfriend by cellphone near his Arlington Heights home when he was gunned down. He was 17.
His father had tears in his eyes after the verdict was read.
"It is such a good feeling. It restores your faith in the justice system,'' Jamiel Shaw Sr. said. "This is the beginning of people not taking it anymore."
Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace said during the trial that Shaw was targeted because the shooter mistook the red in his Spiderman backpack as a gang sign.
At the time of his death, Jamiel Shaw was being recruited by top universities, including Rutgers and Stanford. If he were still alive, family members said, he would be preparing for graduation now.
A veteran LAPD officer who was among the first on the scene four years ago testified that it was the "most sorrow and despair" he had ever seen.
Jurors deliberated for less than four hours. They found true the special circumstance allegation that Shaw's killing was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with an allegation related to the intentional use of a handgun.
"We are here today because on March 2nd, 2008, he chose to take the life of Jamiel Shaw II," Deputy District Attorney Allyson Ostrowski told jurors during his closing argument.
She noted that the last thing Shaw heard before being shot in the abdomen and then in the head was the classic gang challenge: "Where are you from?"
"It was a cold-blooded murder. It was an execution," Ostrowski said.
Espinoza, who had no reaction as the verdict was being read, has tattoo by his left ear of the initials "B.K.,'' which prosecutors said stands for "Blood Killer.''
One of Espinoza's attorneys, Csaba Palfi, said the case was inconsistent and ignoring facts.
"Just because he's a gang member doesn't mean he did it," Palfi said.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Espinoza, an undocumented immigrant and known gang member who now 23.
A penalty phase of trial will begin Tuesday, with jurors being asked to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At the time of the shooting, Espinoza had just been released from jail for allegedly brandishing a firearm. He was in the United States illegally, but immigration authorities did not place a hold on him.
The slaying spurred calls for "Jamiel's Law," which would require the Los Angeles Police Department to identify, arrest and seek to deport gang members who are in the United States illegally.