7 fatally shot at illegal marijuana grow in Riverside County

Seven people were shot to death early Monday, Sept. 7, at a home in the unincorporated Riverside County community of Aguanga, authorities reported.

The victims were found in a residence in the 45000 block of Highway 371 in what was reportedly a house being used to grow illegal marijuana, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Investigators found more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and several hundred marijuana plants at the location, the Sheriff’s Department reported.

At 12:33 a.m., deputies were called to investigate a possible deadly assault when they entered the home and found a woman with severe gunshot wounds. The sheriff deputies then discovered six victims at the same home with gunshot wounds; all six died at the location, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported.

The woman was taken by paramedics to a local hospital where she later died from her injuries, the department reported.

A suspect or suspects in the killings had not been found and remained at large Monday night. Detectives from the Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit and from its Hemet Station were gathering evidence.

“Investigators are currently working on leads,” read a statement from the sheriff’s department.

Cpl. Lionel Murphy of the Sheriff’s Department would not provide further details on Monday night. “It is an ongoing investigation,” Murphy said.

In a press release, attributed to Sgt. Richard Carroll, the authorities said the killings “appears to have been an isolated incident, and there is no threat to the general public.”

The names of those killed were not immediately released.

Aguanga is a remote community located 18 miles east of Temecula and 22 miles southeast of Hemet, with a population of 1,128.

The Sheriff’s Department is asking the public for help in solving the crimes. Anyone with information should contact Investigator Paz at (951) 955-2777.

 

 

 

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2 slain in Anaheim; suspect is believed to have killed himself in Santa Barbara County

ANAHEIM — Anaheim detectives investigating a double homicide Sunday found the suspect in Santa Barbara County dead from an apparent suicide.

It started about 6:15 a.m. when officers were called to an apartment in the 1800 block of South Haster Street on a report that two people had been shot, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Shane Carringer.

“Officers arrived on scene and located the bodies of 47-year-old, Maria Ernestina Ramirez of Anaheim, and 40-year-old Efrain Hernandez-Ramirez of Placentia,” Carringer said. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims had the same last name but their relationship was not immediately explained.

“Homicide detectives quickly identified Jorge Pino, a 57-year-old resident of Salt Lake City, Utah, as a suspect in the murders,” he said. “Jorge Pino and Maria Ernestina Ramirez were in a long-term dating relationship which had recently ended.”

Detectives were preparing an arrest warrant for Pino at about 10:30 a.m. when Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies discovered Pino’s body in the Gaviota area, Carringer said. “Pino suffered what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “

Anyone who had contact with Pino or has other information was asked to call Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS.

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Police ID 5 suspects in robbery of man targeted and killed for his bicycle in Santa Ana; 4 in custody

SANTA ANA — An accused gang member was behind bars Wednesday for allegedly robbing and fatally shooting a man who was targeted for his bicycle last month in Santa Ana.

Jose Luis Salgado of Santa Ana, who turned 20 Wednesday, is charged with murder, with a special circumstances allegation of murder committed for the benefit of a street gang, robbery, participating in gang activity and being an active participant in a gang carrying a loaded gun in public.

Salgado also faces sentencing enhancement allegations of a gang member’s vicarious use of a gun, discharge of a gun causing death and gang activity.

Pedro Morale Chocoj, 31, of Santa Ana was attacked July 23 about 7:45 p.m. by multiple suspects who wanted to steal his bicycle, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

His body wasn’t found until late the next day, when police responded to a call of a man down on a dirt path next to the Santa Ana Riverbed north of 5th Street, Bertagna said.

Chocoj was residing in Santa Ana with his brother and was sending money back to his wife and kids back in El Salvador, Bertagna said.

Santa Ana detectives tracked down the victim’s bicycle on July 27 in the 900 block of Fair Way, thanks to a tip that also led them to a suspect, who is charged with being an accessory after the fact, Bertagna said.

Jesus Gonzalo Ibarra, 22, of Santa Ana, is also charged with participating in gang activity, receiving stolen property and being an active participant in a gang carrying a loaded gun in public, all felonies, with sentence enhancement allegations for gang activity.

Last Wednesday, police arrested Salgado and two other suspects, including a teenager, Bertagna said. The other suspects’ identities have not been released as detectives are still investigating the case and seeking a fifth suspect, he said.

Anyone with information was asked to call detectives at 714-245-8390. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS.

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California’s alleged Golden State Killer set to plead guilty

By DON THOMPSON

SACRAMENTO — Forty years after a sadistic suburban rapist terrorized California in what investigators later realized were a series of linked assaults and slayings, a 74-year-old former police officer is expected to plead guilty Monday to being the elusive Golden State Killer.

The deal will spare Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. any chance of the death penalty for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges spanning six counties. In partial return, survivors of the assaults that spanned the 1970s and 1980s expect him to admit to up to 62 rapes that he could not be criminally charged with because too much time has passed.

Yet nothing is certain until he actually speaks in a Sacramento State University ballroom pressed into use as a courtroom to provide for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been on pins and needles because I just don’t like that our lives are tied to him, again,” said Jennifer Carole, the daughter of Lyman Smith, a lawyer who was slain in 1980 at age 43 in Ventura County. His wife, 33-year-old Charlene Smith, was also raped and killed.

Investigators early on connected certain crimes to an armed and masked rapist who would break into sleeping couples’ suburban homes at night, binding the man and piling dishes on his back. He would threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.

Gay and Bob Hardwick were among the survivors.

They are now looking forward to DeAngelo admitting to that 1978 assault. The death penalty was never realistic anyway, she said, given DeAngelo’s age and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions.

“He certainly does deserve to die, in my view, so I am seeing that he is trading the death penalty for death in prison,” she said. “It will be good to put the thing to rest. I think he will never serve the sentence that we have served — we’ve served the sentence for 42 years.”

A guilty plea and life sentence avoids a trial or even the planned weeks-long preliminary hearing. The victims expect to confront him at his sentencing in August, where it’s expected to take several days to tell DeAngelo and Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman what they have suffered.


Newlyweds Keith and Patty Harrington were killed in August 1980. They are believed to be among the victims of the Golden State Killer. (Courtesy of the Harrington family)

Ron Harrington’s younger brother, Keith, was married to Patty Harrington for just three months when they were bludgeoned to death in their Orange County home in 1980 by a killer then known as the Original Night Stalker.

All four brothers were successful, but “Keith, the youngest of all of us, was the smartest,” he said. “It’s just such a loss. And every time this comes up I think of all the lives he would have saved as an emergency room doctor.”

Their father found the couple two days later.

“It was so gruesome,” Harrington said. ”My dad was never the same.”


Manuela Witthuhn, 28 was bound, raped and bludgeoned to death in 1981 in the bedroom of a single-story house in Irvine. She was alone. Her husband, David, was hospitalized at the time. DNA evidence led authorities to link the crime to the East Area Rapist, now known as the Golden State Killer. (File photo)

 


Janelle Cruz, killed in 1986, is believed to have been a victim of the Golden State Killer. (File photo)

 

The killer racked up a series of monikers for his crimes over the decades.

Visalia Ransacker.

East Area Rapist.

Original Night Stalker.

Diamond Knot Killer.

But it wasn’t until years later that investigators connected a series of assaults in central and Northern California to later slayings in Southern California and settled on the umbrella Golden State Killer nickname for the mysterious assailant whose crimes spanned 11 counties from 1974 through mid-1986.

The mystery sparked worldwide interest, a best-selling book and a six-part HBO documentary, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” that premiered Sunday.

It was only the pioneering use of new DNA techniques that two years ago led investigators to DeAngelo, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department northeast of Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. He previously had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley town of Exeter from 1973 to 1976, near where the Visalia Ransacker struck more than 100 homes south of Fresno.

Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through a popular online DNA database. They eventually narrowed in on DeAngelo with a process that has since been used in other cases nationwide, but said they confirmed the link only after surreptitiously collecting his DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue.

His defense attorneys have publicly lobbied since then for a deal that would spare him the death penalty, though they did not respond to repeated requests for comment before Monday’s hearing.

Prosecutors who had sought the death penalty cited the massively complicated case and the advancing age of many of the victims and witnesses in agreeing to consider the plea bargain.

“Death doesn’t solve anything. But him having to sit though a trial or preliminary hearing, that would have helped,” said Carole, who said neither she nor her slain father believed in capital punishment.

She was so committed to seeing the case through that she temporarily moved from Santa Cruz to her adult daughter’s Sacramento home, where she has slept on an air mattress in a spare bedroom. She has told the story of her father’s death and her own recent experiences through podcasts called The Lawyer’s Daughter.

But she said it “absolutely” makes sense for prosecutors to agree to a life sentence without parole, both to spare older victims and witnesses who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus from having to appear in court, and to save taxpayers the $20 million projected cost of a trial.

Harrington supports the death penalty, but also agreed with prosecutors’ decision “just to give some degree of closure.”

“This will be a relief for all of us, to move on with our lives,” said Hardwick. “We’ve dealt with the effects of the attack for 42 years.”

***

These are the charges faced by DeAngelo. The charges linked to rapes were filed as kidnappings to commit robberies because the statute of limitations for sexual assaults has expired.

Contra Costa County:Four counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Oct. 7, 1978, and June 11, 1979, with the victims identified as Jane Does numbers 10-13.

Orange County:Four counts of murder in the Aug. 21, 1980, slaying of Keith Harrington, 24, and rape and slaying of Patrice Harrington, 27, of Dana Point; the Feb. 6, 1981, rape and slaying of Manuela Witthuhn, 28, of Irvine; and the May 5, 1986, rape and slaying of Janelle Cruz, 18, of Irvine.

Sacramento County:Two counts of murder in the Feb. 2, 1978, shootings of Kate Maggoire, 20, and Brian Maggoire, 21, as they walked their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood.

Nine counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Sept. 4, 1976, and Oct. 21, 1977, with the victims identified as Jane Does numbers 1-9.

Santa Barbara County:Four counts of murder in the Dec. 30, 1979, rape and slaying of Debra Manning, 35, and slaying of Robert Offerman, 44, of Goleta, and in the July 27, 1981, slaying of Gregory Sanchez, 27, and Cheri Domingo, 35, of Goleta.

Tulare County:One count of murder in the Sept. 11, 1975, slaying of Claude Snelling, 45, during an attempted kidnapping of the victim’s daughter from their home.

Ventura County:Two counts of murder in the rape and slaying of Charlene Smith, 33, and slaying of Lyman Smith, 43, of Ventura between March 13 and March 16, 1980.

Source for charges: Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

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Man fatally shot in Norwalk identified as an Anaheim resident

NORWALK — An Anaheim man was identified Saturday as the victim of a shooting in Norwalk.

Johnson J.C. Chen was 32, according to coroner’s Lt. Nani Cholakians.

Deputies responded to the 11300 block of Elmhurst Drive, southeast of the Cerritos College campus, about 3:10 a.m. Friday, and located him, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Chen was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the department said.

A description of the shooter and a motive for the shooting were not immediately available.

Anyone with information about the shooting was asked to call the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Anonymous tips can be called in to Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 or submitted online at lacrimestoppers.org.

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Jurupa Valley man charged in 2017 Anaheim shooting death

SANTA ANA — A 36-year-old Jurupa Valley man was charged Monday with gunning down another man in Anaheim about 2 1/2 years ago.

Luis Alberto Arias faces a murder charge with a sentencing enhancement allegation of the discharge of a gun causing death, along with a felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court records.

Arias is accused of killing 27-year-old Rafael Luna of Placentia on Nov. 24, 2017, in the 2500 block of East Terrace Street.

Police were called to that block regarding multiple calls of shots fired and a man down, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Shane Carringer.

The two were acquainted with each other, he said, but police did not provide any other details of the motive or their relationship.

Police interviewed “numerous witnesses” and reviewed surveillance video and used DNA evidence to identify Arias as a suspect, Carringer said.

Arias was arrested Saturday in Riverside.

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Girl, 17, fatally stabbed in Anaheim — suspect in custody

ANAHEIM — A 17-year-old girl in Anaheim was fatally stabbed Saturday night, and a suspect was in custody, authorities said.

At 8:30 p.m. police were called to the Leatrice Lane and Haster Street intersection where the incident occurred and found the victim clinging to life, according to Sgt. Shane Carringer with the Anaheim Police Department.

The teenager was sent to UC Irvine Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, he said.

A 23-year-old man from Anaheim was in police custody.

Investigators were looking into the relationship between the victim and the alleged assailant, as well as other possible suspects, Carringer said.

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Court panel rejects Manson follower Leslie Van Houten’s bid for release because of the coronavirus

LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court panel Wednesday rejected a bid to release former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten on her own recognizance or bail after an inmate in her prison housing unit tested positive for coronavirus.


Leslie Van Houten waits with her attorney Rich Pfeiffer before her parole board hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at the California Institution for Women in Chino.(Stan Lim, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, wrote in a new motion filed Monday that his client is now 70 years old and that “her age makes her a very high risk to succumbing to this life-threatening pandemic” although she is in “relatively good health.”

He noted in the filing that an inmate in Van Houten’s housing unit tested positive for COVID-19 and is being quarantined. He wrote in the motion that Van Houten was “not opposed to home confinement” and that she can arrange for all costs outside of prison.

Van Houten is imprisoned at the California Institution for Women in Chino.

Van Houten has been recommended for parole three times, but those recommendations have all been reversed — twice by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and once in 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In February, the defense had asked the panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal to speed up her appeal of Newsom’s decision.

Van Houten — who is serving a life prison term — was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles “Tex” Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the August 1969 killings of grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, and his 38-year-old wife, Rosemary, who were each stabbed multiple times in their Los Feliz home.

The former Monrovia High School cheerleader did not participate in the Manson family’s killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Benedict Canyon mansion the night before.

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Killer, 73, to be released from women’s prison in Chino because of coronavirus concerns

VISTA — A 73-year-old Southern California woman who has spent nearly two decades in prison for killing her husband will be released while fighting her conviction because her health may be at risk from the coronavirus if she remains behind bars, a judge ruled.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge on Monday granted an emergency plea on behalf of Jane Dorotik, whose lawyers said she was at extreme risk of getting COVID-19 because of her age, a heart condition and the close quarters of prison that made it impossible to maintain social distancing.

Dorotik was expected to be released from the California Institution for Women in Chino this week.

As of Tuesday evening, two staff members and one inmate at the prison had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dorotik was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the death of her husband, Robert. The 55-year-old was found beaten and strangled on a roadside in 2000, near the Valley Center horse ranch the couple rented. His body was discovered a day after his wife reported that he had vanished after going jogging.

Prosecutors contended that Dorotik killed him with a hammer and a rope.

However, the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent sought a new trial, contending that the police investigation was flawed, that the prosecution presented false blood and DNA evidence to the jury and that new DNA testing of the rope and the body didn’t find any link to Dorotik.

Dorotik’s lawyers filed a writ of habeus corpus challenging her detention. A hearing was scheduled earlier this month but it was sidetracked by coronavirus concerns when the court was closed to all but a few emergency matters.

Last Friday, however, the court issued a revised closure order allowing hearings like Dorotik’s to be heard, which led to Monday’s ruling.

“We argued to the court that it would truly be a tragic outcome if, just as she’s about to prove her innocence, Jane were to contract the deadly coronavirus while in prison waiting for her hearing to take place,” Paige McGrail, a student with the Project for the Innocent who has worked on the case for two years.

Dorotik was expected to stay with her sister in Los Angeles County and will have to self-quarantine for two weeks and must wear an ankle monitor, Paula Mitchell, legal director of the innocence group, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office opposed Dorotik’s release, arguing that she didn’t qualify for the unusual step of releasing her, the Union-Tribune said, citing a statement from spokesman Steve Walker.

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Racketeering charges dropped against men tied to Vagos biker gang, including 4 Californians

LAS VEGAS — A long and troubled federal prosecution in Nevada of current and former Vagos biker gang members from California and other states accused of running an international criminal enterprise and killing a rival Hells Angels leader in a 2011 casino shootout is over.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas approved a government request Monday to dismiss all charges against 11 remaining defendants, closing the federal racketeering case filed in September 2016 after a state court conviction of the Vagos member who acknowledges he was the shooter was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court.

“Witnesses recanted and their racketeering theory was flawed,” defense attorney Kathleen Bliss said Tuesday of the FBI and federal prosecutors. “Yet they pressed on and gambled with the lives of these men.”

Eight men stood trial in a massive and complicated prosecution that began with jury selection last July. Jurors heard stunning admissions from the key witness in September that he fabricated a story about a kill order leading to the fatal shooting at a casino in Sparks.

In February, the jury returned acquittals on all charges against defendants including Pastor Fausto Palafox, former international president of the Vagos Motorcycle Club, which was founded in San Bernardino in the 1960s; and acknowledged Vagos gunman Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez.

“This case was precipitated on lies,” said Joshua Tomsheck, lawyer for defendant Paul Voll, who was awaiting trial with a second group of defendants. Tomsheck called the result a vindication.

Attorney Chris Rasmussen noted that his client, John Siemer, spent three years in federal custody after pleading not guilty and was never brought to trial. Rasmussen called the dismissal “a momentous ending to a long saga.”

U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich said his office sought to end the case in the interest of justice.

Defendants could have faced life in prison if convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of conspiring since 2005 to deal drugs and commit violent crimes including killings, robberies, extortion and kidnappings in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.

One defendant, Jeremy Halgat, still faces trial in June on drug and weapon charges that he has been fighting since 2013. Halgat’s attorney, Richard Tanasi, declined Tuesday to comment.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks could prosecute Gonzalez again, but would face double-jeopardy legal challenges following Gonzalez’s acquittal in federal court. Gonzalez’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, said Tuesday that his client saved lives by stopping two Hells Angels from shooting others.

“Shooting to stop two active shooters is not murder,” Kennedy said, “and the Vagos MC is a motorcycle club and not a RICO enterprise.”

The charges were dropped Monday against Johnny Russell Neddenriep, Bert Wayne Davisson, Mathew Keith Dunlap, Andrew Eloy Lozano, Victor Adam Ramirez, James Walter Henderson, Robert Alan Coleman, Voll, Siemer, Edward Claridan Chelby and John Chrispin Juarez.

When they were indicted in 2017, prosecutors said Neddenriep was from Reno, Davisson from Sparks, Dunlap from Sparks, Lozano from Fontana, Ramirez from Las Vegas, Henderson from Henderson, Nev.,  Coleman from Las Vegas, Voll from Pasadena, Siemer from Baldwin Park, Chelby from Kailua, Hawaii; and Juarez from Moreno Valley.

When indicted, Palafox was identified by the government as a Beaumont resident, Gonzalez was listed as being from San Francisco and Halgat was said to be from North Las Vegas.

Defendants acquitted earlier included Albert Lopez from Canyon Country, Albert Perez from Santa Barbara, James Gillespie from Granada Hills, Bradley Campos from Alhambra; and Cesar Morales and Diego Garcia, both from San Jose.

The Los Angeles Daily News contributed to this story.

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