RIVERSIDE – A Riverside gang member who followed Mexican Mafia bosses' orders to gun down an associate for cooperating with authorities in an auto-theft investigation was sentenced to death today.
“The defendant's method was well thought out,'' Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach said in sentencing 33-year-old George Anthony Hernandez.
“He carried out this crime in a cold-blooded manner,'' the judge said of the killing of Jorge Ortiz, who was slain in a bar parking lot on July 26, 2004.
Hernandez was convicted last August of first-degree murder with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and committing a felony for the benefit of a street gang.
He was also found guilty of conspiracy and murder solicitation charges for asking a girlfriend to kill witnesses in his case.
According to Deputy District Attorney Michael Hestrin, Hernandez killed Ortiz to gain stature within the Mexican Mafia.
The defendant's affiliation with the inmate-run syndicate stemmed from his association with Arlanza 13, a Riverside gang rooted in the city's west side. Ortiz was also an Arlanza 13 gang member.
According to the prosecution, the 26-year-old victim was involved in a car theft with two other gang members in Moreno Valley when he was in his early teens. When the suspects were arrested, Ortiz cooperated with Riverside County sheriff's investigators, unlike his associates, according to Hestrin.
He said the action led to Ortiz being labeled a “snitch'' by Mexican Mafia bosses, who ordered Hernandez to kill him.
According to trial testimony, Hernandez met Ortiz at a Riverside bar, invited him out to his car and shot the victim five times with a 9 mm handgun as the two spoke in the parking lot.
Defense attorneys Chris Jensen and Ed Welbourn argued Hernandez wanted desperately to get out of killing Ortiz, but feared for his own life and the lives of family members if he didn't follow orders. The attorneys asked Zellerbach to overrule the jury's recommendation and reduce their client's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Tony's life has value, particularly to his 12-year-old son,'' Welbourn said. “There are a lot of gang members who have killed other gang members,
and they're sitting in prison for life. In all of Tony's priors, he never, ever hurt anybody physically.''
Zellerbach acknowledged that Hernandez was “bright, intelligent and well-spoken.''
“He can convince people to do things they normally wouldn't,'' the judge said. “But he has chosen not to utilize those attributes in a positive, meaningful manner in our society.''
Prosecutors say that while jailed at Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, Hernandez gained the affections of a correctional deputy, Angela Parks, whom the defendant asked to murder eyewitnesses to the shooting.
Parks is scheduled to be tried later this year on conspiracy charges.