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Gang member convicted of murdering 3-week old baby

By Jill Cowan

Los Angeles Times

9:57 PM EDT, August 30, 2013

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The last of seven gang members accused of killing a 3-week-old baby while trying to collect "rent" from a street vendor near MacArthur Park was convicted of first-degree murder Friday.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury also convicted Juvenal Cardenas Mejia, 40, of several other offenses, including attempted murder, conspiracy and extortion. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Mejia hung his head as the verdict was read but otherwise showed little emotion.

The shooting occurred Sept. 15, 2007, on a crowded street in a bustling shopping district. It sparked outrage in the community and drew the ire of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that allegedly put out a death warrant for those involved.

All seven men were members of the 18th Street Gang, authorities have said.

They were targeting a street vendor who had refused to pay $50 in "rent" to operate in the gang's territory.  As gang members shot at the vendor, they struck Luis Angel Garcia in the heart as he slept in his stroller, authorities said at the time.

The vendor, Francisco Clemente, was also struck and critically wounded. Luis' mother, Clemente's friend, was also shot.

"Now we've held all the defendants involved in Luis Garcia's death accountable," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila, who works in the office's Hardcore Gang Division.

The other men are all behind bars, convicted over the course of several years.

Mejia was the last to face prosecution, Avila said, because he fled to Mexico. He was arrested in September 2011 by Mexican Federal Police and arrived in Los Angeles in February 2012, according to a news release.

"As we've shown with Mejia's capture, the long arm of the law reaches across borders to prosecute fugitives," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement at the time. "It's my hope that the slain child's family finds comfort in the knowledge that the Los Angeles district attorney's office will not rest in its pursuit of justice."

Neither Luis' mother nor relatives of Mejia were in court Friday.

Avila said the woman stayed away from the trial, though Clemente testified.

Luis' autopsy photo, Avila added, was the only known picture of the boy.

Mejia is set to be sentenced Sept. 26.

His defense attorney, Antonio Bestard, said he was "disappointed" that the verdict means his client won't ever be eligible for parole.

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jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan