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Gang Member Gets 2 Life Terms Without Parole in Slayings

Gang Member Gets 2 Life Terms Without Parole in Slayings
Courts: Judge holds Jaime Mares Jr. responsible for the deaths of Officer Brian Brown and a passerby.
By STEVE BERRY
TIMES STAFF WRITER

August 4 2001

An Inglewood street gang member was sentenced Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to serve two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole in connection with the murders of a police officer and an 18-year-old passerby.

Superior Court Judge William Pounders also ordered Jaime Mares Jr., 24, to serve the two life-terms consecutively.

The second life sentence has little practical meaning. But it reflected Pounders’ complete rejection of contentions by Mares’ mother and lawyers that the defendant deserved consideration because he did not fire the gun that killed Los Angeles Police officer Brian Brown or Gerardo Cernas, the innocent passerby, during a drive-by shooting Nov. 29, 1998. His mother, Isabel Mares, said, “My son was a child, full of love, but weak in mind and thought.”

She said he had low self-esteem, and she blamed herself for failing to guide her son away from gang life. But she said her son did not kill anyone himself and she repeated his contentions in trial testimony that he was not a willing participant in the murders.

Her son has argued that he was tricked into going on the drive-by by fellow gang member Oscar Zatarain. He said Zatarain told him they were simply going to deliver some guns to a friend’s home.

En route, they directed him into a rival gang’s territory on Centinela Avenue near the Culver City border where Oscar and another passenger opened fire on Cernas and his friend, Nobel Hernandez, Mares said.

Neither of the victims were gang members. Mares could not identify the second passenger, prosecutors contended there never was such a person.

Mares said he was forced at gun point to flee from police, and that he escaped from his companion when he spun the car out near Fox Hills Mall. Zatarain was killed by police in the gun battle that followed.

The jury didn’t believe Mares’ story and convicted him in May.

Although he will spend the rest of life in prison, he had been facing a possible death sentence.

But the jurors who convicted him, later voted to spare his life and recommend life in imprisonment without parole.

In addition to the two life terms that he will serve without parole, Pounders also imposed additional prison terms for four counts of attempted murder, grand theft auto and fleeing to elude police. Technically, those convictions brought him two additional life terms plus more than 40 years.

In the sentencing, Deputy Dist. Attys. Danette Myers and Keri Modder, said Mares deserved no mercy because he made his choices, picking gangs over life with a loving, supportive family.

They said he has a history of past violence, including another drive-by shooting, that shows he would not reform and would remain a threat to society.

Mares’s lawyers, Marcia Morrissey and Victor Sherman, said Mares was making an effort to leave the gang life behind.

They said he was holding down a full-time job at the time of the shootings, and won the support of his employers, who testified in his behalf.

The defense attorneys have filed an appeal.

Judge Pounders didn’t accept any of the pleas on Mares’ behalf, saying he personally shot at Cernas’s companion, but missed. He said the defendant also willingly arranged to obtain the car for the shootings.

Before sentencing, Pounders’ rejected Mares’ request for a new trial. His lawyers contended that Pounders erred by failing to let the jury consider the charge of second degree murder during deliberations.

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