Gang member guilty of officer’s murder 

Convicted cop-killer David Hill’s lawyer said he will seek a new trial, just hours after a jury handed down a guilty verdict in the slaying of San Francisco police Officer Isaac Espinoza, which would put Hill behind bars for life.

"I applaud the jury’s hard work. They deliberated nine days. That’s a long time. To my mind that indicates pretty strong basis for doubt. When we get our shot at a new trial, that doubt will become very clear," Martin Sabelli told The Examiner three hours after his client was convicted of second-degree murder of a police officer, a verdict that carries a possible sentence of life without parole.

The jury also found Hill guilty of attempted murder for shooting Espinoza’s partner, Barry Parker. However, the seven-woman, five-man jury was not convinced that Hill had acted with premeditation when they acquitted the 23-year-old of first-degree murder.

Hill, an admitted gang member, used an AK-47 assault rifle to pump two bullets into the 29-year-old Espinoza the night of April 10, 2004. Hill sprayed Newhall Street with gunfire after Espinoza and Parker, both working undercover, tried to stop him and question him. The plainclothes officers suspected Hill of carrying a concealed weapon, and Espinoza, approaching on foot, called out to him.

According to testimony, Hill spun around, pulled the gun from his coat and fired at least 12 rounds. Espinoza, a husband and father, died hours later at San Francisco General Hospital. Parker was shot in the foot as he took cover.

During the eight-week trial, prosecutors painted a picture of a coldblooded gangster to whom personal liberty was more important than the lives of two police officers. Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman argued that Hill, a member of the Westmob gang, was in rival territory to carry out a hit on a rival gang member.

Dorfman cited rap lyrics Hill wrote — "I’m from the land of the mob stars/where young niggaz send shots from chop at cop carz/’cause they want to see us dead or better yet behind bars" — as evidence that he was a hardened gangster who would not think twice about killing police officers.

But defense attorney Sabelli argued that Hill, who dressed modestly in a gray sweater and slacks during the trial, was in the neighborhood to buy marijuana. He had been staying at his girlfriend’s house, Sabelli said, and the intersection of Newcomb and Newhall streets was the nearest place to make that purchase.

Sabelli argued that Hill carried the assault rifle for protection as he entered a rival gang’s territory, and that he opened fire on Espinoza and Parker because he thought they were rival gang members about to attack him.

The ability of Parker, the star witness for the prosecution, to identify Hill was attacked by the defense. Sabelli pointed out that when he first identified Hill in a photographic lineup, he said he was only 70 percent sure, but then later said he was sure Hill was the shooter. Sabelli also argued that Parker’s memory could have faded during the two days that passed between the shooting and the homicide inspectors’ first interview with him.

While refusing to give specific reasons for seeking a new trial, Sabelli said, "I’m very optimistic that in this case, we deserve a new trial. I know this is hard news for the Espinozas to hear, because in human terms they want closure. But the reality is that the criminal justice system is not a political arena, and it is not an arena in which to vindicate somebody’s life."

Rather, he said, the trial’s purpose was "to determine whether David Hill is guilty or is not guilty of a crime. That has been decided on some mistakes, and we intend to clear those up."

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors hailed the verdict as a victory. "Although this verdict does not bring Officer Espinoza back to his family or back to the department, we know that if an officer is injured, if an officer is killed by someone, that justice will be served, and that our officers will continue to do the best job that they know how to," police Chief Heather Fong said outside the courtroom.

amartin@examiner.com

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