Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Two readers have asked me to comment on the story that ran in the Times yesterday in which two gangsters accidentaly killed a woman in her house while in the course of returning fire against two other gangsters who were shooting at them.

If you remember the case from late last year, LAUDELINA SALAZAR was shot in the neck while hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree in her living room. The bullet came from a block away. Sometime later, ANTHONY SHELTON and DANIEL MAYO, two convicted felons, were arrested for her shooting.

Yesterday, the DA decided not to file murder charges against the two because they shot in self defense. Naturally, this is unwelcome news to the detectives or the family.

As unpleasant as it may be for law enforcement, the DA made the right call on this one. Granted, they were gangsters and they were carrying concealed weapons. But despite all that, the law concerning self-defense applies to them as well as to any law-abiding citizen. It can't make distinctions.

The DA could, of course, prosecute them as felons in possession of a firearm or for breaking CAL PC12050, the law banning carrying concealed without a license. But that would be small potatoes. And any defense attorney would make a prosecutor look silly pressing ahead with a charge. If history is a gauge of this, they'll probably be liable for a parole violation at most.

Yeah it sucks. And yeah, the incident itself may have been sparked by some unknown action on their part sometime prior to the shooting. In other words, they may have had that drive-by coming for something they did earlier. You almost never know for sure when you're dealing with street gangs. But there's no "they-had-it-coming" statute in the PENAL CODE.

In truth, this isn't the first time a known gangster walked on a shooting by claiming self-defense. One of the first I remember writing about happened in 1982 in, I believe, BALBOA PARK in the SF VALLEY. I don't remember the names of the players but I think the "victim" claimed SAN FER and the shooters were from over the hill. At any rate, it was a stand up gunfight, all being on foot when the rivals let go on him. He surprised them by pulling out a sawed off lever action MARLIN rifle (I remember the gun because it's such a weirdly archaic weapon to carry) and actually killed one of the attackers. The victim walked on that one and was never prosecuted for illegal carry or for being a felon with a firearm. So this latest case has precedents. What's different in this case, of course, is the fact that an innocent bystander was killed. But according to the law, an accidental death as the result of a righteous self-defense shooting does not carry any penalty.

This is small comfort to SALAZAR's family or to the detectives who I know for a fact, become emotionally invested in cases of this nature.

But the big wheel does keep on turning. MAYO and SHELTON may walk on this one, but don't be too surprised if they get theirs in some unexpected but thoroughly deserved way. One way or another, justice will be served. If they were smart, they'd break camp and head for safer parts. If they were smart.

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