The East Los Angeles man convicted of killing Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer was sentenced to life without parole on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Norwalk Superior Court Judge Roger Ito, who oversaw the seven-day trial ending with a verdict on Sept. 1, handed down the sentence for Michael Christopher Mejia, 30.
Mejia came into court Wednesday wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and black mask.
Jury members only needed about two hours to find Mejia guilty of killing Boyer and attempting to kill Whittier Officer Patrick Hazell and killing Roy Torres of East Los Angeles in a separate case.
Ultimately, the jury convicted Mejia on two counts of first-degree murder, a count of attempted murder and a count of carjacking. In addition, the jury also made findings of special circumstances that could lead to a life sentence without the possibility of parole: one murder victim was a police officer, there were multiple murders and Mejia attempted to avoid arrest.
The crimes were spread over mere hours on the morning of Feb. 20, 2017. It began with a 5 a.m. confrontation with Torres, in the converted garage where the victim lived. Torres’ girlfriend came home to find Mejia threatening to execute him at the end of a countdown from 10, she testified.
He didn’t make it past eight, Torres’ girlfriend testified, with Mejia shooting Torres in the head, then demanding the keys to his car, a 2001 Dodge Stratus. Prosecutors said they don’t know why Mejia shot Torres.
Several hours later at the intersection of Mar Vista Street and Colima Road in Whittier, that car collided with another driven by Chen Ta Chia, then of La Puente, who was driving his then-girlfriend, now-wife to work, Chia testified. Several police officers were called to the accident scene around 8:30 a.m. Chia said Mejia repeatedly apologized.
When Mejia’s car came back as reported stolen, the situation quickly escalated into a shootout, with Mejia fatally shooting Boyer and injuring Hazell, the latter testified in court.
A key issue at trial was whether Mejia was an active gang member. Prosecutors said he was a member of the East Los Angeles Winter Gardens gang, citing the many tattoos on his face and body.
Boyer’s killing spurred shockwaves in Whittier and throughout the region.
“The news spread like wildfire, and people were in shock that something like that would have happened,” Ray Wong, a retired teacher and field representative for then-state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, said.
By the time evening came, mourners by the thousands lit candles and listened to speeches outside the Whittier Police Department headquarters.
The District Atttorney’s Office in Febuary decided not to ask for the death penalty, changing its stance from 2018. when deciding to go for it.
Whittier Police Chief Aviv Bar opposed the decision by the District Attorney’s Office and had spoken against it at a Feb. 18 hearing in which he asked for all of the applicable charges and penalties to remain in place.
“… If you sat through the proceedings and if you listened to the facts, if you listened to the suspect himself speak about killing Keith and trying to kill Patrick … just the savagery of that act, I can’t think of any other circumstance that would not qualify this for a death penalty case and the removal before the trial was wrong and unfortunate, very unfortunate,” the police chief told City News Service outside court after the verdict was read.
“This is arbitrary because if this happened in Orange County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Ventura, San Diego, this would be a death penalty case,” Bar added. “It’s very dangerous when you send that message in the county that if you savagely execute a police officer in this county you’re not going to face the death penalty.”
Boyer’s stepfather, Don Clark, said he was “not real happy” with Gascon’s directive to pull the death penalty in all pending cases.
“Because of one man’s decision, it was changed and I don’t think that’s right. It hurt a lot of families,” he said.
The officer’s aunt, Susan Reeder, said the family was “elated” with the verdict, but added, “Our only regret was that the death penalty was taken off the table.”
City News Service contributed to this report
Source: Orange County Register