S.F. cop killer gets life without parole 

Almost three years to the day after gang member David Hill gunned down San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza in the Bayview, he was sentenced to life without parole.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Carol Yaggy also handed down a second life sentence for the attempted murder of Espinoza’s partner, Barry Parker, who was wounded when Hill opened fire with an AK-47 the Saturday night before Easter in 2004.

The two plainclothes officers attempted to question Hill at about 9 p.m. on April 10, 2004 on Newhall Street, suspecting him of concealing a weapon. Parker testified during the eight week trial that they identified themselves as police officers as they approached Hill, then 20, but he produced the semi-automatic weapon from underneath his coat and sprayed at least 12 shots on the street.

Espinoza, 29, was shot twice and later died at San Francisco General Hospital. Born and raised in South San Francisco, he had been married to his wife, Renata, for seven years. Their daughter, Isabella, was three years old at the time of his death. Parker was shot in the ankle.

The day after the shooting, Easter Sunday,Hill reportedly walked into a mental-health facility in Richmond and said, "I think I may have killed a cop, but I’m not sure."

In January, a seven-woman, five-man jury found Hill guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and possession of an assault rifle. The jury acquitted Hill of first-degree murder when they ruled he had not acted with premeditation on the night of the shooting. Such a charge carries a maximum penalty of death.

During the emotional trial, which was attended by Espinoza’s family and uniformed police officers, prosecutors portrayed Hill as a ruthless killer. Citing his violent past, the prosecution painted a picture of a young man who did not value the lives of Espinoza and Parker, citing rap lyrics he wrote that glorified shooting at police.

The defense argued that Hill, an admitted gang member, was in the neighborhood visting a girlfriend and was attempting to buy marijuana when approached by Parker and Espinoza. They claimed he carried the AK-47 for protection in a rival gang’s territory and believed that the officers were rival gang members.

The sentence of life without parole was the highest penalty possible for second-degree murder, said Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman, who prosecuted the case.

"He will spend the rest of his life in prison," said Dorfman. "My office is gratified that Judge Yaggy saw fit to give him the maximum penalty" for second-degree murder.

The sentencing marks the culmination of a tumultuous three years that included much debate on the death penalty, which police officers and Espinoza’s family deeply wanted but District Attorney Kamala Harris chose not to pursue.

Elected in 2003, Harris campaigned on a platform that included an anti-death penalty stance and her decision not to seek the death penalty pitted Harris against the politically powerful police union.

Police Chief Heather Fong said the sentence sent a message "that if you go out there and you harm or kill a police officer who has put his or her life to protect a member of the public, that there will be consequences and those consequences will be serious."

She added, "We know that this sentence will not bring Isaac back."

Hill’s attorney, Martin Sabelli, said that Hill understood the impact his actions had on the community and that if he had a "time machine" he would undo the tragic events.

"Mr. Hill is a young man who had been taught some terrible, brutal and cruel lessons about life," Sabelli said.

dsmith@examiner.com  

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