Gang member and convicted murderer Jerry Coneal III expressed his lack of remorse for the 2012 slaying of a rival gang member with a wink at the mother of his victim during his sentencing on Thursday in San Mateo County Superior Court, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.
Coneal, of Menlo Park, received his life prison sentence on his 23rd birthday. He will not gain parole. He was found guilty of the shooting death of Christopher Baker, 21, a rival gang member who was killed while attending a memorial in East Palo Alto for someone prosecutors believed was associated with gangs.
Coneal was arrested as part of a 2014 multiple-agency sweep nicknamed "Operation Sunny Day." The expression was the code allegedly used to signify when a murder was successfully carried out, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Law enforcement indicted 16 gang members in East Palo Alto who they believed were responsible for five shootings and killings and other crimes. The violence started in September 2012 and continued through December 2013. All of the defendants who have thus far been tried have received lengthy sentences, Wagstaffe said.
Police found Baker suffering from multiple gunshot wounds on Terra Villa Avenue in East Palo Alto on Oct. 5, 2012. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Coneal and another defendant, Miguel Angel Rivera Jr. of Menlo Park, were charged with the crime.
A jury convicted Coneal on Aug. 31 after a 29-day trial and three days of deliberations of first-degree murder and two enhancements: murder while lying in wait and murder for gang purposes. Jurors also found him guilty of firearm-use and gang enhancements, which added to his sentence.
Before sentencing, Coneal's attorney argued that a life without parole sentence would violate the U.S. Constitution's Eighth and 14th Amendments against cruel and unusual punishment and depriving persons of life, liberty, or property, without due process or equal protection of the law. Judge Lisa A. Novak disagreed. She sentenced Coneal to life in prison without parole for the murder, plus 25 years to life to be served consecutively for use of a firearm in the slaying, Guidotti said.
Coneal will receive 1,291 days credit for time served and he must pay a $10,000 to a restitution fund, plus pay additional restitution in an amount to be determined by the court.
Baker's mother, Keisha Knowles, made a statement to the court at the sentencing hearing. At the proceeding's conclusion, she informed the court that Coneal had winked at her, Guidotti said.
In July, co-defendant Rivera, 27, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in Baker's death. He was sentenced on July 28 to 35 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years. He did not receive credit for time served; he is currently serving a 14-year and four months sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentences will run consecutively, totaling a minimum of 49 years and four months, prosecutors said.