SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A gang member who killed two bystanders and wounded a 7-year-old boy when he opened fire on rivals in 2003 to avenge the slaying of a close friend was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
James Lionel Carter, 37, was convicted in June of two counts of murder, three counts of premeditated attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for the shooting outside Dr. J's liquor store in southeast San Diego on New Year's Day 2003.
In sentencing Carter to multiple life terms, Judge Kenneth So said, "This is the ultimate example of destructive gang violence."
Carol Waites, 45, and 32-year-old Sharen Burton were killed in the shooting and Waites' 7-year-old nephew was wounded. The boy -- who was shot six times -- covered his 2-year-old niece's body in the backseat of their car when gunfire broke out. She was not injured.
The victims had stopped at Dr. J's on Logan Avenue on their way home from church about 1 a.m. when the shots rang out.
According to the prosecution, two carloads of gang members pulled up to the store and an "incredible number" of shots were fired. Carter's gang was "inflamed" by the murder of his close friend, Thomas Brown, 24 hours earlier, said Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey.
The prosecutor said Carter and his fellow gangsters shot at their rivals, who hid behind the victims' car.
An AK-47 used by Carter put many of the 30 bullet holes in the victims' sedan, Hickey said.
Hickey said the murders have torn the victims' families apart, with most moving away from San Diego.
"They've been haunted by this case for 8 1/2 years," the prosecutor said.
Hickey said the case was solved when members of Carter's own gang came forward to tell authorities what happened.
Three or four more shooters are being sought, the prosecutor said.
"They crossed the line when they ended up killing innocent ladies," Hickey said outside court. "Because of that, we were able to get people from within his (Carter's) gang to come forward and tell us what they knew about the crime. Without them, we never could have solved this case."
Carter was indicted in June 2009.
Waites' son, Antrone, said he forgives Carter for killing his mother.
"I've been waiting eight years for this," the son said. "I don't have no anger. I'm ready to put this to rest so I can rest."
Carter's aunt, Michelle Carter, said her nephew was an innocent man and was framed by the court system.
"Our nephew is not a beast," she told Antrone Waites. "He's not the killer of your mother."
In his closing argument of trial, defense attorney Brad Patton said that circumstantial and "snitch" evidence wasn't enough to convict his client.
Rap lyrics found in Carter's jail cell last year, which prosecutors claim are confessions to the murders, were nothing more than words written by a man interested in going into the rap business, Patton said. He said the prosecution's theory of the shootings was not consistent with the incident's timeline.