Pomona teen to pay $1.5 million restitution in Chino hit-and-run killing

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CHINO — A Pomona teen convicted of leaving the scene of an accident after striking and killing a Chino man with his car agreed today to pay $1.5 million restitution to the victim’s family.

The $1.5 million figure primarily reflects future wages lost because of the April 14 death of Richard Bohannan, 42, said Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell.

Alfredo Antonio Ramirez, the driver, was sentenced to two years in state prison last month after pleading no contest to three charges as part of a plea bargain reached with Judge Gerard S. Brown.

Ramirez was allegedly sending a text message when he struck and killed Bohannan at about 8:30 p.m. in the 11000 block of Pipeline Avenue, in an unincorporated area near Chino.

Bohannan was walking from his home to his mailbox beside the street when he was struck by Ramirez’s car.

According to witnesses, Ramirez continued driving after the collision for several blocks, then pulled over and exited the car to assess the damage the crash caused his vehicle. He then returned to his car and left the scene.

Ramirez turned himself into police two days later after he learned he was a suspect in Bohannan’s killing.

Mitchell said he was unsure what process Bohannan’s family must go through to recover the $1.5 million restitution from Ramirez, a figure that was finalized today in Chino Superior Court.

The prosecutor said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is responsible for ensuring restitution payments are made.

“If (Ramirez) has the assets in the future, they can collect on it,” Mitchell said. “If he doesn’t, they can’t.”

Bohannan’s family members and Ramirez’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment today.

Jurors begin deliberations in Lozada murder trial

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Pictured (L-R): Jessica de la Torre and Victor Aaron Alburto Lozada.

RIVERSIDE — Jurors began deliberating this afternoon in the murder trial of an Upland man accused of participating in the 2003 robbery and killing of 18-year-old Jessica de la Torre of Ontario.

Victor Lozada testified Thursday that he gave multiple car rides to two friends on Aug. 15, 2003, unknowingly assisting in the robbery and killing of De la Torre. Prosecutors say Lozada was a vital part of the plot.

Prosecution and defense attorneys delivered closing arguments to the jury today before jurors retired to deliberate. The jury is set to continue deliberations Monday.

Lozada testifies, denies knowledge of plot to murder Ontario woman

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Pictured (L-R): Jessica de la Torre and Victor Aaron Alburto Lozada.

RIVERSIDE — Victor Lozada unexpectedly took the witness stand today to refute prosecutors’ accusations that he participated in a 2003 plot to rob and murder an 18-year-old Ontario woman.

According to Lozada’s testimony, he granted two friends a series of favors — mainly car rides — in the course of his friends’ murder plot, unknowingly involving himself on Aug. 15, 2003 in the brutal robbery, rape and slaying of Jessica de la Torre.

A prosecutor told jurors last week that Lozada, 35, was a key “team member” in De la Torre’s slaying, helping his friends plan and carry out the crime. Lozada is charged with murder.

The other two men blamed for De la Torre’s killing — Jesus Penuelas and Sergio Arias — have both been convicted of murder. Penuelas was sentenced to death, and Arias to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Today was the first time Lozada has testified in his defense, opting to remain silent during two previous murder trials — both of which ended in mistrials after juries deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilty verdicts.

Lozada was set to testify Wednesday, but at the last moment opted not to because he feared cross-examination, said his defense attorney, Mike Schaaf.

Lozada testified today that the day before De la Torre’s killing, Penuelas asked him for a ride the following day to the corner of Mountain Avenue and Francis Street in Ontario.

“The only thing they said they were going to do was get a job,” Lozada testified in Riverside Superior Court.

Lozada said that when he dropped off the men near the intersection the following day, he had no knowledge of what would follow.

According to prosecutors, Penuelas and Arias walked from the drop-off point to De la Torre’s house, where she was home alone. They’re accused of plotting to rob her of $7,000 her father had saved.

After they arrived at De la Torre’s home, Penuelas and Arias tied up the woman, stole her ATM card and jabbed her with a knife until she told them her PIN number, according to prosecutors.

Arias then left the home to try to use the card — he was unsuccessful — and while he was gone Penuelas raped the woman, beat her unconscious and threw her in the trunk of her father’s car, according to prosecutors.

He then stole the car and drove it to the home in Upland that Lozada shared with Arias and one other man.

Lozada testified today that he had just returned home from his job at a Chino dairy, where he milked cows, when Penuelas arrived in the car and asked him for help unloading stereo equipment.

Lozada told jurors that he didn’t know the equipment or the car had been stolen. Penuelas told him not to ask questions, Lozada testified. He also denied hearing De la Torre make any sounds from the trunk, where she was bound.

“I never heard a thing,” said Lozada, a Mexico native who was assisted in court by a Spanish-language interpreter. “I never knew a thing.”

Penuelas then asked Lozada to follow him in his own car because he needed to drop off the car he arrived in, and he needed a ride home after that.

Lozada followed Penuelas to the Jurupa Mountains in Riverside County, and waited nearby as Penuelas drove out of his field of view, into an area covered by thick brush.

Lozada testified that he was unaware that after Penuelas drove into the brush, he removed De la Torre from the car and ran her over several times to kill her.

He also denied that he knew anything was amiss when he granted Penuelas and Arias’ request to give them a ride to two ATMs, where the men tried unsuccessfully to withdraw money from De la Torre’s bank account.

During his cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez questioned Lozada’s honesty on the witness stand, emphasizing statements Lozada made to police indicating that he knew the favors he was granting were aiding in De la Torre’s killing.

Lozada testified that he misspoke during the interview because he was tired and hungry, and had been subject to several hours of interrogations.

Following Lozada’s full day of testimony, Rodriguez told Judge Richard Hanscom this afternoon that he intends to call additional witnesses Friday morning to refute some of Lozada’s testimony.

Attorneys are scheduled to give closing arguments in the case after Rodriguez’s witnesses complete their testimony, which Rodriguez told the judge would take an hour.

Closing arguments expected Thursday in murder trial for 2003 killing of Ontario woman, 18

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Pictured (L-R): Jessica de la Torre and Victor Aaron Alburto Lozada.

RIVERSIDE — The prosecution rested its case today in the murder trial of Victor Lozada, who is accused of assisting two other men in the 2003 robbery and killing of an 18-year-old Ontario woman.

Lozada, of Upland, was prepared to testify in his own defense today in Riverside Superior Court, but he decided at the last moment not to take the stand because he feared being cross-examined, said his defense attorney, Mike Schaaf.

Attorneys in the case are expected to deliver closing arguments Thursday, Schaaf said.

Prosecutors accuse of Lozada, 35, of dropping off two co-conspirators near Jessica de la Torre’s home, and later giving the men a ride to ATMs where they tried to use De la Torre’s stolen bank card.

Lozada is also accused of giving one of the alleged killer, Jesus Penuelas, a ride home after Penuelas ran over De la Torre with a car to kill her near the Jurupa Mountains.

Penuelas and Lozada’s other alleged co-conspirator have been convicted of murder.

Booking photo released for Freddy Najarro, arrested last week in 1992 cold case

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The sheriff’s department just released Freddy Najarro’s mug shot from when he was booked last week on suspicion of stabbing a Riverside man to death in 1992 at a Rancho Cucamonga warehouse party. Click here for background on the case.

Posted above to the left is Najarro’s mug shot from last week. On the right is the image of the suspected killer captured in 1992 by a partygoer’s video camera.

La Verne girls softball treasurer pleads not guilty to embezzlement

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By Daniel Tedford, Staff Writer

POMONA – A Pomona woman charged with embezzling $55,000 from a La Verne softball league pleaded not guilty today in court.

A bail review hearing was also set for Christine Lopez, 38, for Sept. 2 when the former softball treasurer appeared at Pomona Superior Court this morning.

Lopez declined comment as she left the courtroom, surrounded by friends and family. She also instructed her attorney not to comment.

Lopez was arrested Jan. 8 by the La Verne Police Department for embezzlement from the softball league, for whom she had served on the board as treasurer.

Lopez had been put on suspension by the league while they performed an audit using an outside agency, officials said. Following the audit, they turned to the police.

As a result of the preliminary investigation, a search warrant was served at Lopez’s residence in Pomona, police said.

Documents and bank records were seized and both Lopez and her husband Dominic were taken into custody without incident, police said.

The husband was later released pending further investigation, while Lopez posted bail.

Police had originally estimated and charged Lopez with embezzling $20,000. When Lopez was arraigned Monday, those charges had changed to $55,000.

Man pleads not guilty to murder in 1992 Rancho Cucamonga killing

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PICTURED (top to bottom): Alleged killer identified by detectives as Freddy Najarro, the cold-case playing card, and the 1992 Sheriff’s Department flier.

NOTE: The playing card inaccurately states Dennis Winston Smalling’s race, age and the date of the stabbing. He was black, 19 years old, and was stabbed on May 15, 1992.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A man arrested Friday and charged with murder in a 1992 Rancho Cucamonga cold-case killing pleaded not guilty to the charge this morning in West Valley Superior Court.

Freddy Najarro, 35, is accused of stabbing a Riverside man at least nine times following a verbal argument at an illegal warehouse party on May 15, 1992 at 12027 Arrow Highway.

After he was stabbed, Dennis Winston Smalling, 19, was driven by friends to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana and pronounced dead, according to sheriff’s reports attached to Najarro’s court file.

An image of the suspect captured by a partygoer’s video camera — a man now believed to be Najarro — was the key piece of evidence in solving the case.

A flier about the incident that contained the image of the suspect was distributed by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in the wake of the killing, but it failed to lead to an arrest.

In January, an image of the suspect was included in a deck of cold-case playing cards produced by the Sheriff’s Department’s cold-case squad.

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A person browsing the images on the Web site of the Daily Bulletin’s sister paper, the San Bernardino County Sun, recognized the man pictured as Najarro and in July contacted the Sheriff’s Department.

Najarro was recently released from prison after serving 10 years for a voluntary manslaughter conviction stemming out of a 1996 Fontana beating death.

Sheriff’s detectives located Najarro in Bloomington on Friday and arrested him on suspicion of murder for Smalling’s 1992 killing.

Najarro was in custody in lieu of $1 million mail when he appeared in court this morning for an arraignment hearing.

Najarro pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and was appointed the public defender’s office to represent him. He was told to return to court Monday for a routine pre-preliminary hearing.

On May 15, 1992, a Friday, Smalling and three friends decided to attend an underground party that Smalling had a flier for, one of Smalling’s friends told sheriff’s investigators after the killing.

The flier directed the group to a fast-food restaurant in Chino for additional information about the party, one of Smalling’s friends told sheriff’s investigators, according to reports contained in Najarro’s court file.

When they arrived at the restaurant that night, the group received directions to an empty warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga, where they paid $4 or $5 admission, the friends told detectives.

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Smalling’s friends told detectives that the group walked around the warehouse and looked at other people when they entered the party.

In one of the corners of the warehouse, a sound system and light system had been set up, and partygoers were dancing in the area, Smalling’s friends told detectives.

When Smalling and his friends walked past the area, a man who had been dancing with a young woman — possibly his girlfriend — began to stare down Smalling, his friends told detectives.

Smalling and the man — believed to be Najarro, who was then 18 — exchanged words.

The suspect used a racial epithet during the argument with Smalling, who was black, said one of Smalling’s friends. The two men apparently had never met.

The suspect then attacked Smalling, stabbing him at least nine times in the chest and back.

Smalling’s friends, also from the Riverside area, had to ask other partygoers where the closest hospital was.

Smalling was in full cardiac arrest by the time the group reached Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana.

Staff Writer Stacia Glenn contributed to this report.


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Man pleads not guilty to murder in 1992 Rancho Cucamong killing

Freddy Najarro, 35, pleaded not guilty in West Valley Superior Court this morning to murder charges in the cold-case killing of Dennis Smalling.

Here’s today’s story by Stacia Glenn on charges being filed:

Man charged in 1992 Rancho Cucamonga slaying at warehouse party

By Stacia Glenn

Prosecutors Monday charged an Ontario man who is accused of fatally stabbing another man at an underground Rancho Cucamonga party in 1992.

Freddy Alezander Najarro, 35, faces a single murder count for the May 16, 1992, slaying of Dennis Smalling, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in West Valley Superior Court.

Sheriff’s detectives arrested Najarro late Friday after a month-long investigation into the cold case. An anonymous tipster recognized Najarro’s picture on a deck of cold case playing cards displayed on The Sun’s Web site in late July and called the WeTip hotline.

It is the first cold case solved in the playing cards, which were created in mid-January.

Investigators say Najarro and Smalling, then 20, got into an argument at an underground warehouse party on Arrow Boulevard and Najarro stabbed him to death. A partygoer snapped Najarro’s picture but detectives were not able to identify him until recently.

Najarro, who faces 25 years to life in prison for Smalling’s killing, was recently paroled for a 1996 case in which he pleaded down from murder to voluntary manslaughter.

He is expected to be arraigned today.

To view more sheriff’s cold cases on The Sun’s Web site, visit www.sbsun.com/coldcases.

Arraignment postponed for alleged serial killer with Claremont victim

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Accused serial killer John Floyd Thomas Jr. appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom this morning to be arraigned on two counts of murder, but the hearing was postponed to Sept. 23, according to a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system.

Thomas, 73, has been charged with murdering two Los Angeles women in the 1970s, and has been linked by DNA to at least three additional killings, including the 1986 rape and strangulation of Claremont resident Adrienne Askew, 56.

Authorities believe Thomas, a former Chino resident, may have been responsible for as many as 25 killings in the Los Angeles area in the 1970s and 1980s.

A cold-case unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department linked Thomas to the killings using DNA recovered from the decades-old crime scenes.

For background on the case, click here or here.