One of five men convicted in connection with the killing of a 21-year-old man during a drug deal that went bad in Pasadena was sentenced Thursday to 50 years to life in state prison.
Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen imposed the term on John Michael Piepoli Jr., 24, who was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the Jan. 15, 2013, shooting of Zane Goldstein, who died two days later.
Piepoli — who was not at the scene of the killing — was initially sentenced in November 2014 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But the case was sent back to the downtown Los Angeles courthouse for re- sentencing after a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a robbery against Piepoli.
In their November 2016 ruling, the appellate court justices found that there was “insufficient evidence that appellant was a major participant in the underlying robbery,” and that he “did not plan the criminal enterprise that led to Zane’s death” and was not present at the scene of the attempted robbery or Goldstein’s shooting.
The justices noted that Piepoli gave police a detailed account of the events surrounding the set-up of the drug deal and rejected the defense’s contention that his statements to detectives should have been excluded from his trial.
Piepoli repeatedly told a police detective that he thought the plan was merely to scare Goldstein into turning over his marijuana, and he wasn’t aware that Goldstein had been shot until he was informed the next morning by police, according to the appellate court panel’s ruling.
“There was no evidence appellant knew that a gun would be used. At most, the evidence showed that appellant thought a knife might be used in the robbery,” the appellate court justices found.
Three other men — Peter Parra, Kevin Jessie Cabrera and Raymond Frank Conchas — were also convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for their roles in the shooting. A state appellate court panel upheld their convictions, and the California Supreme Court refused to review the case against them.
A fifth man, Ward Lacey IV, was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
During Piepoli’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Stefan Mrakich acknowledged that Piepoli was not at the crime scene, but told jurors that he was “equally guilty.”
Piepoli’s trial attorney, William Jacobson, countered that it was “a case that has nothing to do with robbery.”
The defense lawyer told jurors that it was “simply an attempted assassination” stemming from Goldstein’s failure to pay a gang “taxes” for selling marijuana in its territory. He argued that his client was “never part of an agreement to commit a murder” and “never knew what the actual conspiracy was here.”
–City News Service
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