A man who gunned down a former Santa Monica High School football player after a run-in last year was sentenced Friday to 40 years to life in state prison.
Sherwin Mendoza Espinosa, 43, was convicted Aug. 21 of second-degree murder and a gun discharge allegation stemming from the Feb. 26, 2017, slaying of Juan Castillo.
The panel acquitted Espinosa of the more serious charge of first-degree murder.
Castillo — who graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2016 — was shot to death about 12:45 a.m. near a liquor store in the 2100 block of Pico Boulevard. The 18-year-old victim’s body was found just after 5 that morning about a mile away in the 1300 block of 16th Street, near the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.
A friend who was with Castillo in the car at the time of the shooting panicked, drove away and left the victim’s body at the second location, according to Deputy District Attorney Keri Modder.
A witness testified that he was walking to his car on 16th Street when he saw the body on the ground. The dead man was “wearing a football jersey, number 88,” Jonathan Fantroy told the jury.
“The way he was positioned looked odd (and) I saw blood on his face,” Fantroy said, telling jurors that he took four photos of the body with his phone and called 911. He said he also checked for the victim’s pulse, as instructed by the emergency operator.
Santa Monica police Officer Steve Salandez told jurors that he went to the scene and found that the victim had a Santa Monica school identification card with Castillo’s name.
The prosecutor — who said there had been a brief run-in between Espinosa and the victim before the shooting — credited “really good detective work” by Santa Monica police. Investigators used video taken from cameras on passing city buses and nearby surveillance cameras to track down the car in which the victim was shot, along with the vehicle driven by Espinosa, Modder said.
Espinosa was arrested in May 2017 and has remained behind bars since then.