Gang member gets 57 years for fatal shooting

LOS ANGELES - A female member of the Avalon Garden Crips was sentenced last week to 57 years to life for the 2009 shooting death of a woman whose son had a fallout with the defendant.Michelle Cato, 29, of Los Angeles was convicted by a jury on Oct. 21 of the second-degree murder of Sheila Zaldana, 46, and the attempted murder of Zaldana's son. Jurors, who deliberated about a day, also found true two special allegations of discharge of a gun causing death and personal use of a handgun. Judge Craig Richman imposed Cato's sentence on Dec. 14 and ordered her to pay $7,500 in restitution to the state's victim compensation board for burial expenses. Two days before the shooting, Cato and the victim's son were hanging out at a park near Fifth and San Julian streets in Los Angeles when they got into an argument over a phone conversation - between the victim's son and another person in Cato's presence - that Cato deemed "disrespectful." Following the verbal dispute, Cato took a swing at the male victim but missed and left the park. Earlier in the day, the two had stationed their vehicles in the same parking lot. When the male victim returned to his vehicle, he found the hood scratched with the words "A's Up", an Avalon Garden Crips slogan, and the side panels also scratched. Cato acknowledged the vandalism and said that the male victim had disrespected her. As another argument ensued, Cato drew a knife and then a handgun. The male victim called 911 and Cato began to flee. The male victim, still on the phone with 911, his mother and the other woman followed several feet behind Cato for about half a block. Mid block, Cato turned around and attempted to shoot the male victim but her gun jammed, prosecutors said. Cato attempted to fire the weapon again. This time, the gun discharged and Zaldana was fatally shot in the right temple. An LAPD officer arrested Cato two blocks away as she fled. The victims were not gang members, according to prosecutors.

********** Published: December 22, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 36