SAN DIEGO - A man who gunned down a Skyline market owner during a robbery more than 17 years ago was sentenced today to life in prison without parole, plus two consecutive life terms.
Charzel Shears, now 36, was convicted last month of first-degree murder in the death of 65-year-old Sleiman ``Pops'' Hallak. The jury found a special circumstance allegation to be true that the April 17, 1996, murder of Hallak occurred during a robbery.
Shears was also convicted of two counts of premeditated attempted murder
for firing at a cigar salesman and a clerk that day.
Before sentencing, Judge Michael Smyth denied a motion to dismiss the charges based on what the defense contended was violation of due process and failure to preserve evidence. The judge also denied a motion for a new trial.
Smyth said Shears walked into the Moonlite Market with a gun raised about 10:30 a.m. and shot Hallak so quickly that there was ``no hope'' for the victim. Shears then fired at the other two victims for no reason, the judge said. Hallak -- who was shot twice in the head and once in the chest -- had owned Moonlite Market for more than 20 years.
The cigar salesman and the clerk said they heard the gunman repeatedly say ``Give me the money, Pops'' before the shooting.
Shears -- then 19 -- was charged in 1996 with committing a robbery a few days after the Skyline heist, but prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to charge him with Hallak's murder.
Shears made admissions to a person he met in 1996, and later told others about his involvement in the murder, resulting in his arrest in August 2012, said Deputy District Attorney David Bost.
A break in the case came in 2005 when Shears told his future wife that he was the one who shot Hallak, in part because he was concerned the market owner was going for a gun behind the counter, the judge said.
Although witnesses described the gunman as being much shorter than Shears, jurors were convinced that the defendant was the perpetrator.
``The evidence here is very strong for his guilt,'' Bost told the judge. Hallak's widow, Suad, thanked police and prosecutors for finding Shears and bringing him to justice.
``He burned our hearts ... for nothing,'' she said. ``I will leave his punishment in God's hands.''
When given a chance to speak, Shears said something in French, then declined to say anything more when the judge told him to talk in English.
Defense attorney Ray Aragon said he was optimistic the case would be reversed on appeal.