SANTA ANA — A judge sentenced a La Habra gang member to 15 years to life in prison Friday for the fatal beating and stabbing of an 18-year-old son of two Los Angeles police detectives at a Halloween Party.
Steven Salvador Hernandez, 20, was convicted in May of second-degree murder and street terrorism for the Oct. 31, 2009 death of 18-year-old Joshua Mora-Rodriguez in the 1000 block of East Francis Avenue in La Habra.
The Orange County Superior Court jury also found true the special allegation that the crime was carried out for the benefit of a criminal street gang.
The victim, however, had no gang ties, authorities said. He had only recently graduated high school and was preparing to join the Army when he was killed.
“During the sentencing (Friday), Mora-Rodriguez’s mother, step-father and uncle gave victim impact statements to the court describing the heartbreaking loss of Mora-Rodriguez,” Orange County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“The victim’s mother tearfully explained that, despite working as a police detective and frequently working with murder victims, she never expected to be the one losing her son,” the statement said. “She also said that she felt sorry for the defendant’s parents because they didn’t look after their son and raise him to be a better man instead of a murderer.”
Two other young men are still awaiting trial in connection with the slaying, officials said.
Rene Antonio Lobos, 17, of La Habra and Jose Francisco Nuno, 22, of La Habra face the same charges as Hernandez, district attorney’s officials said. They were due in court Nov. 9 for a pre-trial conference.
Mora-Rodriguez was attending a party shortly before midnight with about 40 other people that was being hosted by a female friend of one of the suspects, according to Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff, who prosecuted the case.
Two of the victim’s friends had been beaten up by several other young men during the party, the prosecutor said. As Mora-Rodriguez and his friends left the party, they were confronted again by some of the young men they had fought with.
Nuno started a verbal argument with one of Mora-Rodriguez’s friends before more than a half-dozen gang members jumped into the fray, Duff said, adding that witnesses had described the attack as an “ambush.”
Nuno is accused of punching the victim as Lobos allegedly beat him with a baseball bat and Hernandez cut his throat with a knife, Duff said.
Mora-Rodriguez’s carotid artery was severed by the knife, causing him to bleed to death within minutes, officials said.
A knife found wrapped in bloody clothing and hidden at a neighboring home was determined to be the murder weapon through DNA analysis, Duff said. Additionally, DNA tests showed that the clothing the knife was wrapped in belonged to Hernandez.
Nuno and Lobos were arrested shortly after the killing after police noticed blood — later found to be Mora-Rodriguez’s — on their clothing, investigators said. Hernandez was arrested several weeks later as the investigation continued.
Though Hernandez was 17 at the time of the killing, and Lobos was 15, both were charged as adults. If convicted as charged, both co-defendants also face up to 15 years to life in prison.