A Dos Palos gang member received a sentence of 34 years to life in prison Friday for killing a 21-year-old man in 2010.
Issac Lopez-Espinoza was 15 when he stepped out of a vehicle just before noon on Sept. 4, 2010, and fired two shots at people standing outside a home in the 1200 block of Frank Avenue in Dos Palos. Tommy Henson was killed and his father, Randy, was shot in the leg.
Lopez-Espinoza is now 19. Judge Donald Proietti gave him the maximum sentence under the terms of the plea agreement.
Merced County sheriff’s detectives said Lopez-Espinoza and his brother-in-law, Sanson Noe Andrade, wanted to avenge the murders earlier that year of two fellow gang members – but they shot the wrong people. Henson had nothing to do with those murders and was not a gang member.
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Andrade, now 23, was convicted in 2012 of first-degree murder. He was the driver of the getaway vehicle used in the homicide. He’s serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Henson’s mother, Linda, on Friday criticized the justice system in a prepared statement addressed to Merced Superior Court. She said her family’s recovery over the last four years has essentially been put on hold while the legal process ran its course.
At one point during Friday’s hearing, Linda Henson addressed Lopez-Espinoza directly.
“Issac, I just want you to know you have left my family brokenhearted,” she said. “All I know is I will never understand why you did this. I don’t even know if you will ever understand why you did this and was it truly worth it?”
Linda Henson described her son, the youngest of her three boys, as “the one who made us laugh, sometimes so hard we cried.” She lamented her son never having a chance to get married and have his own children.
“But I also hope that the favor is returned and that you never have an opportunity to get married or have children or that your parents will not have the joy of enjoying grandchildren from you,” Linda Henson said.
The grieving mother also criticized Lopez-Espinoza’s family, saying she was angry they’d never tried to apologize to her family.
“Not a word or a note, nothing. As a mother and parent I’m truly shocked and disgusted at how they value life,” she said. “Maybe this is why Issac didn’t seem to care that he killed someone.”
Tensions over the last four years between the two families have boiled over at times, ending in confrontations that prompted the Sheriff’s Department to beef up security Friday with additional deputies stationed inside and outside the courthouse.
Lopez-Espinoza, wearing gray and white jail clothes and shackles, faced Linda Henson while she spoke and appeared to listen without ever looking away. His attorney, William Davis, told the court his client “has taken responsibility for his actions.”
“Multiple families have been badly affected by this,” Davis said. “He’ll have to live with that for the rest of his life.”
Lopez-Espinoza’s family did not speak in court and declined to comment following Friday’s hearing.
Davis said his client will not appeal the case.
Judge Proietti said the defendant had ruined the lives of many families and encouraged Lopez-Espinoza to reach out to the victim’s family. “Words from the defendant or his family could be important to their grieving process at some point in the future.”
The judge also said it was possible for the teenager to redeem himself, though he noted that process was “entirely up to” Lopez-Espinoza.
“You may well spend the rest of your adult life in prison until you die,” Proietti said.
David Elgin, the supervising deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said he was satisfied with the outcome. Elgin noted that new state laws require juveniles convicted of murder to have a “meaningful opportunity at parole.”
Officials said Lopez-Espinoza will be 49 before he can even apply for his first parole hearing, and there’s no guarantee he would be granted a hearing at that time.