gaveldecision.jpgA state appeals court today upheld a street gang member’s conviction and sentence of life in prison without parole for the murder of a San Francisco police officer in 2004.

David Hill, 27, was convicted by a San Francisco Superior Court jury in 2007 of the second-degree murder of Officer Isaac Espinoza, 29, with a semi-automatic assault rifle in the city’s Bayview District on April 10, 2004.

Espinoza was working as an undercover police officer.

Judge Carol Yaggy sentenced him to the maximum possible sentence, life in prison without possibility of parole, saying, “An entire community has been victimized.”

Hill, a member of the West Mob gang, was also convicted of the attempted murder of Espinoza’s partner, Barry Parker, and sentenced to a consecutive term of life with possibility of parole for that crime.

Although a conviction of second-degree, or unpremeditated, murder usually carries a maximum sentence of life with possibility of parole, the no-parole penalty was possible in Hill’s case because the jury found a special circumstance of killing a peace officer with two additional factors.

The two factors were the jury’s findings that Hill used an assault weapon and that he knew or should have known that Espinoza and Parker were officers.

That finding rejected the defense’s argument that Hill fired in self-defense because he thought the plainclothes officers were members of a rival gang.

Prosecutors contended that Hill armed himself with the intent to kill a member of the rival Big Block gang, recognized that the two men were officers, and opened fire because he feared being arrested for possessing the rifle.

In a 72-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal in San Francisco rejected a series of appeal arguments, including Hill’s claim that a life-without-parole sentence for second-degree murder would be unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Mark Simons, writing for the court, said Hill “committed an egregious and unprovoked murder of a police officer.

“Given the gravity of this offense, we cannot conclude the life-without-parole penalty is disproportionate to the offense, or that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity.”

Hill’s attorney in the appeal, Kathy Moreno, said she would ask the California Supreme Court to review the case.

Newly elected California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was San Francisco’s district attorney at the time of the murder and prosecution, had no immediate comment.
The attorney general’s office represents prosecutors in criminal appeals.

Harris had begun her tenure as district attorney in January 2004 and set off a storm of controversy when she decided not to seek the death penalty for Hill.

Some public figures, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association, called for a capital punishment prosecution.

Others, including religious leaders and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, supported Harris’ decision.

Then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer looked into the case and declined to take over the prosecution after concluding that Harris acted within her discretion in deciding not to seek the death penalty.

Harris said at the time she believed the evidence would not support a death penalty because of Hill’s youth and lack of an adult criminal record.

The city’s new district attorney, former Police Chief George Gascon, could not be reached for comment.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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