Man who killed San Francisco cop sentenced to life in prison 

The man who took police on a wild car chase that killed a San Francisco cop, then laughed about the stunt while in jail, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday.

Steven Petrilli, 24, of San Francisco was convicted Sept 23 of first-degree murder and four other felonies for driving the stolen getaway van that rammed a police patrol car, killing Officer Nick-Tomasito Birco, 39, on July 26, 2006. Petrilli and two other men had committed four robberies in The City that night. Petrilli ran about 20 stop signs at speeds of over 50 mph before crashing at Cambridge and Felton streets around 1 a.m.

Judge Newton Lam dismissed requests from Petrilli’s attorney for a lighter sentence. Defense attorneys claimed Petrilli’s IQ of 65 made him incapable of saying “no” to pals Nicholas Smith, 26, and Carl Lather, 25, when they urged him to take part in the robberies and flee cops.

But at the trial, prosecutor Eric Fleming played an audio tape of Petrilli’s jailhouse calls to his wife, in which the couple joked and laughed about the chase.



Before the sentencing Tuesday, Birco’s father, Tomasito Birco, told the judge that he has forgiven Petrilli. “Forgiveness is not a gift we give to others, but it is a gift that we give for ourselves,” he said.

Petrilli insisted in court that he “was young and stupid” and did not mean for the tragedy to happen.

Cops were happy with the conviction but had hoped for the death penalty, said Kevin Martin, the Police Officers Association vice president.

“It was thought out, planned, calculated and cold, and it cost a son, a brother, a relative, a friend, his life,” Martin said.

The justice system is sending a “dangerous message” to criminals that killing cops doesn’t pack severe consequences, Martin said.

A jury found Petrilli guilty of killing Birco in September. Petrilli was prosecuted on former District Attorney Kamala Harris’ watch. Harris, who became attorney general this month, was opposed to the death penalty.

Her political stance at times came in conflict with rank-and-file officers. That division may lessen with the newly appointed district attorney, former police Chief George Gascón, Martin said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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