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Gang Member Pleads Guilty to Murdering Off-Duty Sheriff’s Deputy

A gang member who ambushed a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy as he was preparing to leave for work pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen immediately sentenced Carlos Velasquez – who had been facing a potential death sentence had he gone to trial – to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Velasquez, 28, gunned down Deputy Juan Abel Escalante on Aug. 2, 2008, about 5:35 a.m. in the Cypress Park area of Los Angeles as the 27-year-old father of three was getting ready to go to work at the Men’s Central Jail.

Escalante, a former U.S. Army reservist, was not in uniform.

Velasquez admitted a special circumstance allegation that Escalante’s murder was carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with gun discharge and gang allegations. He also pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

“I think it was a fair disposition to the case,” defense attorney Michael Adelson said outside court.

Deputy District Attorney John Colello said it was a “gang-driven crime.”

“The whole reason they were in there was to hunt for rival gang members,” said the prosecutor, who handled the case with Deputy District Attorney Phil Stirling.

Velasquez, who pumped four bullets into the victim, is the third defendant to plead guilty or no contest in connection with the off-duty deputy’s slaying.

Arnoldo Pineda pleaded no contest in September 2010 to voluntary manslaughter and is facing a 14-year state prison term.

Guillermo Hernandez, 24, pleaded no contest in April to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 21 years in state prison. He waived credit for three years he had already served behind bars, Colello said.

Three others are still charged.

Jose Renteria, 21, is accused of supplying Velasquez with the handgun used in the killing.

Armando Albarran, 30, is awaiting extradition from Mexico, where he was arrested in May, and another man, Roberto Salazar, 26, is still wanted, Colello said.