Silence prevailed among the more than 30 uniformed officers lingering outside the packed courtroom Thursday afternoon after they learned the jury did not hand down a first-degree murder sentence for the man accused of gunning down an undercover cop.
"What? Oh, you’re kidding," an officer was overheard saying as some 30 officers walked away in silence, before learning that David Hill, 23, could spend the rest of his life behind bars for gunning down Officer Isaac Espinoza with an AK-47 assault rifle.
"I think some of the cops who walked out of here were disappointed because they were hoping for a first-degree murder, but I think that the ultimate goal for us and the family was to make sure that it was a life without parole sentence," said Gary Delagnes, president of the Police Officers Association.
Espinoza’s immediate family showed no reaction when the verdict was read, but gasps were heard throughout the courtroom, which was packed with off-duty police officers. No reaction came from Hill’s mother, who sat behind him in the courtroom. Barry Parker, who was Espinoza’s partner on the night he was gunned down, lowered the bridge of his nose into a tissue, which he held in his hand.
Espinoza, who was 29 years old at the time of his death and an eight-year veteran of the Police Department, left behind a wife and a 3-year-old daughter.
"He was a good person. He was a good cop. He deserved better," said Barbara Poni, Espinoza’s aunt, as she walked out from the courtroom with tears in her eyes.
Days after Espinoza died, his family and members of the Police Department called on recently elected District Attorney Kamala Harris to seek the death penalty. Harris refused and the department and Harris clashed publicly.
"I am happy about this verdict, but I wish it would have been the death penalty," Poni said. "Should have been."
Harris said the jury had "delivered justice" by finding Hill guilty of knowingly killing a police officer, which carried the possibility of life without parole.
"This jury delivered justice in saying that this defendant should never get out of prison and that he should die in prison. We will be urging the court during sentencing to follow the law and sentence the defendant to just that, for the taking of a life."
Delagnes said members of the department could be satisfied with the verdict.
"[The jury] understood that … a statement has to be made to society that if you kill a cop, if you kill somebody out there that is trying to protect others, you are not getting out of prison, you are not going to see the light of day — goodbye forever."