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Gang member gets life for toddler’s murder

A gang member was sentenced today to life in prison for killing a 3-year-old boy and wounding two alleged gang rivals in a shooting in East Oakland three years ago.

Lawrence Denard, 29, was convicted last month of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of premeditated murder for being the shooter in the incident outside a grocery store in a strip mall in the 6400 block of International Boulevard at about 1:10 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2011.

Prosecutor Ben Beltramo told jurors during the trial that Denard and Willie Torrence, 25, who he said was the driver, carried out the shooting in order to promote their gang, the 69th Village gang, and were targeting two members of the rival 65th Village gang, Robert Hudson and Jerome Williams.

Beltramo said Denard fired at least 10 shots from a Glock semi-automatic pistol, striking Hudson and Williams but also hitting and killing 3-year-old Carlos Nava, who was on his way to the grocery store with his mother and brother.

Carlos, whose death sparked widespread community outrage, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, Beltramo said.

In addition to convicting Denard of the murder and attempted murder charges, jurors convicted him of two counts of discharging a gun from a vehicle, being ex-felons in possession of a gun and multiple clauses of acting to benefit a criminal street gang.

During the trial, Beltramo played for jurors several videos that Denard recorded on his cellphone, including one made only an hour before the shooting, in which he called himself an “angel of death” and said he planned to murder his rivals and said they should live in fear of him.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said the prosecution’s case against Denard and Torrence was “powerful, overwhelming and devastating” and Denard’s statements in the cellphone videos were “the equivalent of a signed confession.”

Technically, Horner sentenced Denard to 130 years to life in prison plus another 7 years. Denard will serve the 7-year term first, then the 130-years-to-life term.

Horner said he chose to sentence Denard to consecutive terms for his convictions instead of concurrent terms because there were numerous aggravating factors in favor of a maximum sentence and “simply no circumstances in mitigation” that would call for a lighter sentence.

Horner said one of the most important aggravating factors is that, “It’s hard to imagine having a higher degree of cruelty and callousness than firing at least 10 shots from a semi-automatic pistol at unarmed and vulnerable victims in a crowded area in the middle of the day.”

The judge said, “Carlos had no chance at all — he was in a yellow stroller pushed by his mother” and the boy’s expectation that he was in a world of safety and love “was ripped from him by Mr. Denard.”

Carlos’ mother, Maria Teresa Nava, said in a statement read in court by Beltramo that she has lost much weight and suffered from diabetes, anxiety attacks and high blood pressure since her son was killed.

She said in the statement that Denard and Torrence should receive the harshest sentence possible “so they will not be free to do this to another unfortunate family.”

Denard’s lawyer, Annie Beles, said during the trial that Denard should be found not guilty of murder because she doesn’t think the prosecution proved that he was the person who fired the shots in the incident or even that he was present at the scene of the shooting.

Before Denard was sentenced today, Beles said she still thinks that Denard is innocent and said his conviction is “a tragedy” and “a disservice to justice.”

Beles said Denard was convicted because of “cynicism and fear” and because of the emotional impact of a dead child.

The defense lawyer said, “The emotions that were played upon like a fine fiddle by the prosecution are what convicted him, not the evidence.”

Torrence was convicted of the same charges that Denard was and is expected to receive a similar sentence when the hearing concludes later today.

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