Willie Morris Clay II, 46, received the sentence in a Martinez courtroom this morning for the killing of Oakland resident Gary Lloyd Townsend in Antioch on April 27, 2009.
Clay, an Oakland native who prosecutors said is a motorcycle gang member, was convicted in June on a first-degree murder charge for the slaying with a special circumstances enhancement for lying in wait.
Civil rights attorney Tony Serra, Clay's attorney, today repeated his argument at trial that his client killed Townsend because he feared the victim was planning his murder and had killed his son.
Serra told the judge that his client should have instead been charged with manslaughter.
Clay had known Townsend for decades and knew that he had committed more than 20 murders, including the fatal shooting of Clay's son, Serra said.
Prosecutors said the pair had long been part of the same Oakland motorcycle gang.
Serra said when Clay spotted the victim at an Antioch strip mall on April 27, 2009, he believed Townsend was meeting with co-conspirators in a plot to kill him.
"My client feared he would be recognized and be killed and, in his own words, he panicked," the attorney said.
According to prosecutors, Clay saw Townsend head into a medical clinic with his pregnant girlfriend and children and waited for him to come out.
When Townsend left the clinic, got on his motorcycle and stopped at a nearby intersection, Clay ran up and shot him from behind multiple times, prosecutors said.
Before the sentence was handed down by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Kennedy, Clay gave a tearful speech in which he claimed that Townsend killed his son and, he believed, was also planning to have him killed.
Clay apologized to his family, his children and to the citizens of Antioch for his crime, calling his decision to shoot and kill Townsend "irresponsible."
However, he maintained that Townsend was the aggressor in their relationship and had terrorized him and his family for years. "I am not a murderer," he said.
Deputy District Attorney Lynn Uilkema said the trial was too focused on the victim's past crimes and not on his murderer.
"Mr. Clay is the one who executed Mr. Townsend in the street," Uilkema said.
The court also heard from Townsend's sister, Lenda Townsend-Williams, who described her brother as a kind, loving man whose death has devastated the family.
"We don't know all the things my brother did," she said. "What we do know is that he was loving ... he took care of his children."
The judge said that while there was evidence demonstrating Townsend's many violent crimes, there was also proof that financial motives and jealousy played roles in the killing.
Whether or not he believed Townsend killed his son, Kennedy said, Clay should not have retaliated violently.
"You don't have the right to take his life, now matter how bad you think he is, or how dangerous you think he is," Kennedy said.