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By Jorge Casuso
March 4, 2019 -- The California Supreme Court last week upheld the death sentence for two men engaged on a 2000 crime spree that ended with a tense hostage takeover and shootout with police on the Santa Monica Pier.
The state's highest court on Thursday upheld a 2005 ruling that gang members Oswaldo Amezcua and Joseph Flores be sentenced to death for the murders of four men between April 11 and June 19, 2000.The spree ended with the arrest of both men on July 3, 2000 on the pier ("Three Officers, Two Civilians Shot on Pier; 15 Hostages Taken," July 4, 2000).
Flores, then a resident of Baldwin Park, was taken into custody after an altercation with police, who had been tipped off by the San Bernardino County Sheriffs that the men were on the pier.
Amezcua, also of Baldwin Park, ran into the Playland Arcade and opened fire on the officers, wounding three, as well as two civilians, who sustained gunshot injuries to the leg.
Amezcua, who police described as a "very hardcore gang member," then took 15 hostages, leading to a five-hour standoff inside the arcade before he surrendered.
Writing on behalf of the panel, Justice Carol A. Corrigan said Amezcua told authorities that his mission was "to kill as much people as I could."
The two men were convicted of murdering John Diaz, Arturo Madrigal, George Flores and Luis Reys.
In addition, they were convicted of attempted murder, attempted murder of a peace officer, robbery, arson and weapons possession, among other charges.
"The people they killed were all unarmed," Deputy Dist. Atty. Darren Levine said during the penalty phase of the trial in 2005. "They were shot in the back. These defendants had no regard for human life."
Amezcua and Flores did not put up a defense. Instead, Amezcua refused to apologize and celebrated his gang affiliation, calling himself a "soldier" who chose his "profession."
When the two were sentenced to death on April 20, 2005, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry said the men treated the "shootings and killings as sport," according to the Daily News Service.
The "unprovoked" murders, the judge said, "demonstrated an extreme indifference and callous disregard for human life."
In Thursday's 63-page ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the defense's contention that there were errors in the trial.
These included "the trial court's acquiescence in the defendants' refusal to allow their attorneys to present any mitigating evidence or arguments on their behalf in the trial's penalty phase," according to the Daily News service.
"The record clearly demonstrates defendants' objective in this case," Corrigan wrote.
"The court engaged in extensive and careful colloquy with defendants and their counsel to ensure that each defendant understood the stakes involved in pursuing his choice."
As of November 2018, there were 740 inmates on death row in California.
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