04/21/2007

Calif. officer's killer gets life without parole

By Jaxon Van Derbeken, Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Staff Writers
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.— After emotional testimony from the family of slain San Francisco officer Isaac Espinoza, a judge was near tears Friday as she sentenced David Hill to life in prison without parole for the AK-47 murder of the officer and the attempted murder of his partner.


San Francisco Police Officers stand together after addressing the media in San Francisco on April 21, 2004. The officer's union sought the death penalty for David Hill, who stands accused of gunning down SFPD officer Isaac Espinoza.(AP Photo/ Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Superior Court Judge Carol Yaggy spoke directly to the defendant, Hill, 23, who was found guilty of second-degree murder in January, as he sat in his red jail jumpsuit in the courtroom packed with officers and Espinoza's family.

"Mr. Hill, they're only two victims named in this case, but an entire community has been victimized,'' Yaggy said, her voice welling with emotion.

"Isaac Espinoza was an extremely talented and dedicated police officer -- he gave his life to try to prevent the kind of violence your AK-47 inflicted.''

She said the sentence will not be able to console anyone for their loss, but will "guarantee Mr. Hill will not victimize another family or another community.''

After she sentenced Hill to life, there was brief applause in the courtroom. "Ladies and gentlemen -- don't do that,'' she gently chided them.

As he was led out of the courtroom, Hill smiled at his family and saluted someone in the audience.

Three members of Espinoza's family addressed the court -- his mother, sister, and brother-in-law -- some speaking directly to Hill.

"You are not only a murderer, you are a thief,'' said Espinoza's sister, Regina, as she spoke to Hill, accusing him of stealing her family's happiness and the chance for Isaac's daughter to know her father. "She's the one you robbed the most.''

She called the shooting an "act of a coward.''

"You took the life on an amazing man ... what you did was final, nothing can bring my brother back,'' she said. "I don't feel you should be allowed to breathe.''

She suggested the death penalty would have been a fitting punishment, even though District Attorney Kamala Harris ruled out capital punishment early on. "A life for a life -- this is about justice,'' Regina Espinoza said. "You are lucky that the district attorney of this county spared your life ... I don't know if it would be the same in another county.''

The victim's mother, Carol Espinoza, who attended every day of the trial, spoke of the struggles she has had since her son was slain. She said she was concerned that Hill was "not punished to the fullest extent of the law.''

"It's really hard to go without Isaac,'' she said, but added that she has some comfort in knowing that she spoke to him by phone on the day of his death and that her last words to him were, "I love you, Son.''

"For that, I'm grateful,'' she said.

Four members of the jury attended the sentencing. The panel had rejected the prosecution contention that Hill, a gang member, had committed premeditated, first-degree murder when he fatally shot the 29-year-old plainclothes officer on a street in the Bayview district on April 10, 2004.

But in finding Hill guilty of an enhancement of having intended to kill a police officer, the jury of five men and seven women made him eligible for life in prison without parole. The jurors also found Hill guilty of attempted murder for wounding Espinoza's partner, Officer Barry Parker, and of the illegal use of a firearm for gang-related purposes.

"Mr. Hill had a fair trial, and we're happy with the decision'' juror Julie Jones said after the sentencing.

Hill's attorney, Martin Sabelli, has pledged to appeal the verdicts. Before his client was sentenced, Sabelli made a brief statement to the court, suggesting Hill had come to realize the impact of his actions. "If there were a time machine, he would want to take this back, not for his sake, but for the family.''

A pastor, the Rev. Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, spoke on behalf of the Hill family to express a "deep sense of remorse'' for what happened. "I still believe there is some redeeming value in David's life,'' McBride said.

During the 2 1/2-month trial, prosecutors argued that Hill was a hardened gang member who killed Espinoza and attempted to kill Parker because he was trying to avoid being arrested for having an assault rifle. Sabelli contended that Hill opened fire on the plainclothes officers because he mistook them for gang rivals who wanted to kill him. Sabelli maintained throughout the trial that Hill should have been convicted of manslaughter, at the most.

The jury foreman, who did not want his name used, said after the verdict that jurors agreed Hill knew he was firing at officers, but could not rule out that he fired in panic rather than in a planned attack.

Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman, who prosecuted the case, said outside court Friday that Hill got the maximum penalty for the crimes he was convicted of.

"He will spend the rest of his life in prison. He will not ever get out of prison,'' he said. "There was some justice for these victims and the families of these victims.''

Police Chief Heather Fong said she was satisfied with the outcome.

"We're grateful that the court has sentenced Mr. Hill to the most serious penalty possible, given the evidence before the court," she said.

"We know that this sentence will not bring Isaac back, it will not ease the pain of his family or the members of the department and the law enforcement community, but it is something. He will never be able to harm anyone in our city again and hopefully any other city.''

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle

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