The California Supreme Court Thursday upheld the convictions and death sentences of two gang members for a 90-day crime spree that included four murders — including three in Baldwin Park — and ended after one of them holed up in a Santa Monica Pier arcade with hostages and fired at police.
The state’s highest court rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in the trial of Oswaldo Amezcua and Joseph Flores, including the trial court’s acquiescence in the defendants’ refusal to allow their attorneys to present any mitigating evidence or arguments on their behalf in the trial’s penalty phase, in which jurors ultimately recommended in March 2005 that the two be sentenced to death.
“The record clearly demonstrates defendants’ objective in this case. The court engaged in extensive and careful colloquy with defendants and their counsel to ensure that each defendant understood the stakes involved in pursuing his choice,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the panel in its 63-page ruling.
The opinion noted that Amezcua — when queried while in jail about his mission — replied, “To kill as much people as I could.”
Amezcua and Flores were convicted of first-degree murder for the 2000 slayings of John Luis Diaz on April 11; Arturo Madrigal on May 25; and George Orlando Flores and Luis George Reyes on June 19.
Three of the men were killed in Baldwin Park, while Reyes was murdered in Ontario.
Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during a drive-by shooting.
Amezcua and Flores also were convicted of numerous other charges, including attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, arson, second-degree robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon.
The pair’s crime spree began on April 3, 2000, after they were released from state prison, where they had served time for armed robbery.
“They wreaked havoc on Los Angeles County for a 90-day period of time, indiscriminately killing people, shooting at people, trying to kill police officers, shooting police officers,” Deputy District Attorney Darren Levine said.
The prosecutor said the two were on a “streak of death and destruction until they were apprehended on the pier,” where Amezcua staged a July 4, 2000, standoff with police at the Playland Arcade.
Three Santa Monica police officers were wounded during the Fourth of July shootout with Amezcua, who had taken people inside the arcade as hostages and began releasing them after a few hours. He surrendered about five hours later.
Flores was wrestled to the ground and taken into custody shortly before Amezcua ran into the arcade.
Santa Monica police had gone to the arcade based on a tip from San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, who were looking for the two.
Amezcua and Flores, who were initially accused of three murders, acted as their own lawyers for some time and confessed to additional crimes while meeting with Levine about the case, the prosecutor said.
“When we went out and investigated those murders, there was corroboration, so they were charged with five murders,” he said.
They were acquitted of a fifth murder count, which stemmed from the June 7, 2000, slaying of a fellow gang member, who was gunned down as he answered the door of his Victorville home.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry sentenced the two to death in April 2005, saying then that Amezcua and Flores treated the “shootings and killings as sport.” He called the murders “unprovoked and demonstrated an extreme indifference and callous disregard for human life.”
Amezcua — who asked to address the court at his sentencing — said he loved his family and then proceeded to celebrate his gang affiliation, calling himself a “soldier” who chose his “profession.”
He said the justice system turned the jurors into killers and added that he would “offer no lame attempts to apologize” for his crimes.
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