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Gang member pleads guilty to attempted murder in South City shooting deaths

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A member of a Norteño-affiliated street gang pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to four counts of attempted murder in connection with a 2010 triple-fatal shooting in South San Francisco that targeted a group of men perceived to be rival gang members.

But under a plea bargain, federal prosecutors will drop charges that the defendant, Justin Whipple, 21, of San Bruno, murdered the three young men who died in the shooting.

Whipple was one of four members of the 500 Block/C Street Gang in South San Francisco who were charged with the drive-by shooting attack on seven young men in South San Francisco on Dec. 22, 2010.

The shooting happened near the intersection of Eighth Lane and Linden Avenue.

Two victims, 18-year-old Omar Cortez and 19-year-old Gonzalo Avalos, died at the scene and a third, 20-year-old Hector Flores, succumbed to his wounds later at San Francisco General Hospital.

Three others were wounded, and the seventh victim targeted was not hit by the gunfire, according to prosecutors.

One other defendant, Joseph Ortiz Jr., 23, of South San Francisco, pleaded guilty last year to 25 counts including the three murders and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to five consecutive life terms.

The other two men accused in the murders are awaiting trial.

At Thursday’s hearing before Illston in a San Francisco courtroom, Whipple pleaded guilty to a total of seven counts — racketeering conspiracy that included plots to murder, the four counts of attempted murder, one count of use or possession of a firearm in a crime resulting in death, and an additional count of using a firearm in a violent crime.

Whipple will be sentenced by Illston on June 6.