DOWNTOWN — Four reputed gang members have been given what could end up life sentences for the murder of 20-year-old Richard Manuel Juarez, who was gunned down while hanging out with friends at Virginia Avenue Park in 2009, authorities said Wednesday.

Patrick Dwight Birdsong Jr., 21; Sean Alex Mermer, 31; Taaj Zakee Martin, 20; and Norman Lovan Cole, 36; were convicted of murder, attempted murder and street terrorism — a gang enhancement — said a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The four were sentenced at various times over the last week, according to information posted on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s website.

No other information was available at presstime.

Juarez was shot and killed Nov. 3, 2009 shortly before 9 p.m. as he was hanging out with friends at Virginia Avenue Park. Juarez, a graduate of Olympic High School, had just finished participating in an art class when he was approached by two suspects who immediately opened fire.

A police officer who was in a marked police car just a block from the shooting heard the shots and responded to the scene. He saw the two suspects running from the park toward a vehicle occupied by two other men. The officer drove behind the vehicle and arrested the two occupants. The alleged shooters continued running on foot south onto 22nd Street.

One of the suspects was found shortly after hiding under a van during a K9 search. The other suspect was found hiding in the rear yard of a vacant home.

The shooting sent shockwaves through the community because of the brazenness of the attack. It took place next to a police substation and recreation center where the Police Activities League sponsors sports programs to help keep kids out of trouble.

At the time of the shooting, it was believed that Juarez was targeted because of the clothes he was wearing. Family members said he was not a gang member.

“He loved to laugh,” Laura Alexander, a teacher at Olympic who spent considerable time with Juarez, said days after the fatal shooting. “He loved to draw. He was very loyal. He had a lot of friends and would often spend time after school helping out. He was really just one of the nicest kids. He always had a huge smile.”

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