Gang member, 24, found guilty of first-degree murder

A member of the 28th Street gang who, at the age of 16, terrorized the group's territory was convicted of first-degree murder Tuesday.

Delbert Cobb, now 24, was found guilty of murdering a rival gang member's father and trying to murder the man's son, but Cobb also was found not guilty of another slaying that happened about a month later.

Cobb was already serving time for two attempted murders when he was charged with the two murder counts and an additional charge of attempted murder. He committed the crimes while patrolling the heart of what was once the 28th Street turf during the last two months of 1999, "42 days that within this neighborhood involved an awful lot of victims," said prosecutor David Stanton during closing arguments.

Cobb's defense lawyer Bret Whipple said Cobb is only guilty of the two attempted murders in 1999 to which he had already pleaded guilty. There was not enough evidence to support any of the charges for which Cobb was on trial in District Court for the past two weeks, Whipple argued.

The jury sided with Whipple on the one murder charge but found Cobb guilty in the slaying of Juan Lopez Sr., 39, and attempted murder for the wounding of his son, Juan Lopez Jr., who was wearing a T-shirt with a rival gang reference.

"He's proud of it (the gang affiliation), and it cost him his dad's life and almost his," Stanton said.

The two were shot Nov. 13, 1999, as they walked home from the market together near the 2300 block of Sunrise Avenue.

Beginning this afternoon, the prosecution and the defense will present witnesses to help jurors determine whether to sentence Cobb to life in prison without the opportunity of parole or a minimum term of 40 years.

Stanton said Lopez Jr. won't be present to tell the jury how his father's death has affected his life. "He's not going to be here to express his concerns, if indeed they exist," Stanton said.

According to a video of Lopez Jr.'s testimony taped in January when he was an inmate in California, he did not want to testify and did not remember anything about the shooting, except waking up in the hospital.

He claimed to be a member of a Mexican gang with which his father had no affiliation.

Whatever sentence Cobb receives will be little consolation for the members of the Contreras family who were in the courtroom each day of the trial. The jury found Cobb not guilty in the murder of 18-year-old Jorge Contreras.

"There was no justice done," said the victim's mother Antonia Contreras, through a victim's advocate, who translated what she said from Spanish to English.

Prosecutors alleged Cobb shot Jorge Contreras three times as he walked from a bus stop to his girlfriend's house in the 800 block of N. 21st Street on Dec. 16, 1999.

After the verdict, Whipple said the jury must have recognized there was not enough circumstantial evidence to convict Cobb of Contreras' murder.

In tears, Antonia Contreras said outside the courtroom that her son told family and friends in the hospital that Cobb was the shooter.

"I wanted to record it in the hospital but the hospital wouldn't allow it," she said.

Antonia said Cobb, who went to middle school with her son, told Contreras he was going to kill him. When Contreras asked why, Cobb told him it was because he was in the wrong neighborhood, she said.

Prosecutors said Contreras was no affiliation with a gang.

On Jan. 3, at University Medical Center, he identified Cobb as the man who shot him, according to the police report. Police had shown him a group of mug shots and Contreras pointed to Cobb's photo, police said. Contreras had tubes in his throat at the time and could not speak. Fourteen days later he died.

Jurors didn't get to hear that story, however, because the court ruled it inadmissible, citing a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that changed the standard for admission of hearsay statements in criminal cases.

Stanton said he would try to have Contreras' identification of Cobb admitted for the jury to hear today as they consider Cobb's sentence.