LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Police on Tuesday said they had arrested a reputed gang member in the case of a high school football star who was killed in an act of random violence while his mother was serving in Iraq, sources told FOX News.
Police said Jamiel Shaw, 17, had not responded when Hispanic gang members pulled up in a car and asked him, "Where are you from?" — code for what gang did he belong to, police said. Shaw was not a gang member.
Pedro Espinoza, 19, was charged with a single murder count with a special-circumstance allegation that could make him eligible for the death penalty, said Shiara M. Davila, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
The special circumstance was that it was a gang-related shooting, Davila said. Prosecutors also included special allegations that the crime involved the personal use of a firearm and that it was a gang-related felony offense.
"He was a gang member, he saw somebody else that he thought was from an opposing gang and immediately, almost intuitively, he hopped out of that car and shot that young boy twice," Police Chief William Bratton said Tuesday at a press conference.
Meanwhile, friends and family gathered at the funeral for Jamiel Shaw, who was walking home from a mall on March 2 when he was shot just doors from his home.
Espinoza allegedly shot and killed Shaw just one day after the reputed gang member was released from prison after serving months for an assault conviction. Espinoza is a documented member of the 18th Street gang.
Espinoza was arrested Friday and appeared in court Tuesday for arraignment, but it was postponed until March 25 at his request while a public defender is assigned to him, Davila said.
Police said Jamiel was a standout running back and a good student at Los Angeles High School. He also was the Southern League's most valuable player last season and had been recruited by universities including Stanford.
"A kid like that doesn't come around too often," Hardy Williams, the coach of the Los Angeles High School football team, told MyFOXLA.com.
Jamiel was an all-city first-team selection last season after he rushed for 1,052 yards, averaging more than 14 yards per carry, and he scored 10 touchdowns. He also ran track.
Shaw's mother, Army Sgt. Anita Shaw, was on her way home from Iraq, where she had been serving her second tour since August 2007 with the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, the Army told FOXNews.com.
"We were greatly saddened to learn of the death of Sgt. Shaw's son, Jamiel," Army Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb said in an e-mail. "Our Army has great soldiers who stand ready to support and defend our nation and stand side-by-side with their families to support each other in time of need.
"When tragedy strikes one family, it reaches the entire Army family," she said. "Sgt. Shaw and her family are in our thoughts during this most difficult time."
Shaw's father said he didn't believe his son's killing was a hate crime.
"I don't see it as black and brown," the elder Shaw told mourners. "I see it as [a] gang problem."
Shaw's March 2 murder was only the latest in a series of gang-related shootings.
In the past three weeks, a 13-year-old boy was shot dead as he was picking lemons from a neighbor's tree; police engaged in a gunbattle with a carload of alleged gang members after a man was shot as he walked with a child; five children and three adults were wounded when a man fired into a crowd by a bus stop; and a 6-year-old boy was shot in the head and critically injured while riding in a car with his family.
Police statistics show that gang-related violence, including homicides, is down this year in Los Angeles. But the brazen attacks have rattled communities across the city.
Bratton appeared angry as he spoke about Espinoza, who was released from county jail after serving several months for assault.
"He assassinated [Shaw], just for the belief that he might have been a gang member," Bratton said. "That's what we are up against in this city, sociopaths like that."
Shaw was a popular member of the Los Angeles High Romans football team and top universities were considering him for a football scholarship.
It was not known whether Espinoza had retained an attorney.
At Shaw's funeral Tuesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told mourners that he thinks the student would have wanted more than words of remembrance.
"He'd tell us that the madness of gang and gun violence metastasizing in our streets absolutely has got to stop," Villaraigosa said to applause. "I think he'd tell us that we can't give in to fear, that we must stand up to it.
Among mourners in the cathedral were Shaw's teammates, solemn in the white-and-blue jerseys of the Romans, and his coach, Hardy Williams. A bouquet of blue-and-white flowers lay atop the blue-and-silver casket.
"Until we can address the problems of the gangs ... there's going to be a lot more people doing what we're doing today," the elder Shaw said. "This is our chance to make a difference ... to make his life mean something."
Police are looking for a second suspect, police said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.