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Gang members called cowards Neal Putnam | Sat, Jan 15 2011 12:00 PM

Two gang members were sentenced Jan. 7 in a packed courtroom to 50 years to life for the 2009 slaying of Guillermo "Willie" Esparza who was shot to death on Paradise Valley Road after the pair shouted gang challenges.

Darren Roy Martinez, 22, and Hector Damian Martinez, 18, received 25 years to life for the homicide and 25 years consecutively for the use of a gun in the Aug. 21, 2009, slaying of Esparza, 18, who was not a gang member.

Darren Martinez was the gunman.

Hector Martinez was given an additional sentence of six years for punching Jimmy Parker who was walking home with Esparza. Darren Martinez received a consecutive term of 14 years for stabbing two people at a taco shop that same night. The pair are not related to each other.

Both men were found guilty on Nov. 17 of first-degree murder with the allegation the slaying was committed to benefit a criminal street gang. They were also convicted of felony assault to Parker. Darren Martinez was also found guilty of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon in two stabbings at the taco shop.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill ordered both men to pay $6,546.37 in funeral expenses for the victim and each was fined $10,364. He turned down a defense motion by Hector Martinez's attorney to reduce the verdict to second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Esparza was not a member of a gang. He lived near Paradise Valley Road and both convicted killers also lived in the same area with their parents, but they did not know each other. Esparza was shot in the chest and shot three more times after he had fallen onto the street around 2 a.m., according to Deputy District Attorney Melissa Diaz.

Darren Martinez had his head shaved since the verdict and the name of his gang was tattooed on the back of his head and neck. His hair covered his head and the tattoo during the three-week trial. Both men wore green jumpsuits and Darren Martinez was heavily shackled with chains around his feet and waist.

"You shot my brother when he was defenseless on the ground," said Brenda Esparza, the victim's sister. "You are cowards. You can't even look at me. You have taken a piece of everyone seated behind me."

Amalia Aguilar-Elias said the pair's parents and friends "can see them anytime," but "if we want to go to Willie, we have to go to an urn.We can't talk to him."

The judge gave both men credit for serving 381 days in jail. Hector Martinez was 17 years old when the shooting occurred and he was housed in a juvenile unit until he turned 18.

His probation report says he was involved in five gang-related fights while in a juvenile unit.

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