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Riverview gang member, 17, gets life for east Tampa murder

TAMPA — A 17-year-old Raw Dawgz gang member was sentenced to life in prison without parole Thursday after being convicted of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors said Esteban Rivera fired at least four rounds from a pickup truck during a Nov. 30, 2007, drive-by shooting with two other teens. A bullet pierced 19-year-old Andre Coachman's head, killing him as he walked with his brother and a friend.

"Facedown on a sidewalk with blood pouring out of a gunshot wound in his head. That's where this defendant and his friends left Andre Coachman," Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon told jurors.

Rivera was 15 at the time.

Last month, authorities identified him as a Raw Dawgz gang member and one of five juveniles who plotted to escape from the Orient Road jail by slashing a detention deputy's throat.

Getaway driver Daniel Ryals testified that Rivera shouted "Raw Dawgz" as he fired rounds in the East Tampa neighborhood. Ryals has pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact, and is out of jail awaiting sentencing.

Forensics couldn't say whether the fatal bullet came from a 9mm pistol used by Rivera or a .357 Magnum used by LaBronx Bailey, 19. Harmon told jurors that shouldn't be their focus.

"He has to be treated as if he killed Andre Coachman," he said.

Defense attorney Robert Fraser pointed to the lack of physical evidence: no fingerprints, no guns recovered.

The state relied heavily on witnesses who testified that Rivera bragged about the drive-by for months afterward. Rivera and friends bought a newspaper and laughed that police had details wrong, Harmon said.

"His actions after show how cold-blooded it was," Harmon said. "There was no remorse."

In court Thursday, Rivera told Coachman's family he was sorry. "I apologize for everything," he said, never turning to face them.

At trial, Fraser tried to shift the bulk of the blame to Bailey, who wanted revenge against someone in the neighborhood who had beaten up his cousin in prison.

Fraser told jurors that Rivera thought the plan was to shoot over the victims' heads to scare them. Bailey had the motive to do more harm, he said.

Harmon said trajectory evidence suggested otherwise.

Bailey is set for trial for first-degree murder later this year.

Tra Evan Lineberger, 17, who fired a shotgun, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 28-year sentence.

Jurors heard a recorded jail phone call in which Rivera grumbles to his mother about his friends' deals, saying they all did the same thing. He was furious the state only offered him a 40-year sentence.

His mother, Ana Pizarro, complained that authorities spoke to her son outside her presence, and sought more prison time than they should have.

"They all should have gotten the same thing," she said.

Riverview gang member, 17, gets life for east Tampa murder 08/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 4:12pm]
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