Attorneys clash in closing arguments for barbershop murder trial

POMONA — A prosecutor and defense attorney gave closing arguments today in the murder trial for two men accused of robbing and killing an Ontario man at a Holt Avenue barbershop.

The attorneys clashed over whether barber Larry Hammett, 46, was shot because he resisted a robbery attempt at Groom Time, or because he threatened to kill one of the men accused in his killing.

Omari Ali, 21, and Keyon Rasheed Hill, 20, could face life without the possibility of parole if convicted of murder for Hammett’s killing.

Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan told jurors in Pomona Superior Court that Ali was lying when he testified that he shot Hammett because the barber pointed a gun in his face after Ali declined to purchase marijuana from him.

“Mr. Ali is not to be trusted, not to be believed, and he did not have the right to use self-defense that day,” Phan told the jury of eight women and four men.

Phan told jurors that Hill and Ali robbed Hammett of marijuana and money, and shot and killed him because he resisted.

“That was their purpose in showing up to the barbershop,” Phan said.

Hill’s attorney, Ronald Whitenhill, told jurors that Hill “was in the wrong place at the wrong time” the day of Hammett’s killing.

Hill and Ali went to the barbershop to purchase marijuana from Hammett, and did not rob him or set out to kill him, Whitenhill said.

The attorney said that testimony this week from people who witnessed the barbershop killing supports defense claims.

Phan emphasized in his closing argument that marijuana and other items were missing from the barbershop after the killing — because Ali and Hill took them, he said.

But Whitenhill told jurors that the marijuana and other items were missing because one of Hammett’s friends removed them before police arrived to try to keep it secret that Hammett was selling marijuana.

Attorneys are scheduled to finish closing arguments Monday, and once arguments are finished the jury will begin deliberating.

Ismail Ali, Omari Ali’s father, said in an interview this morning that he feels his son and Hill should be found not guilty, and he believed his son was telling the truth on the witness stand this week.

“It held up good,” the Los Angeles man said of his son’s story. “I wasn’t there, he was, so he knows.”

Ontario man pleads not guilty in drunken driving death

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An Ontario man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed a San Dimas woman in a drunken driving crash last year and fled the scene.

Jeffrey Gilbert Gonzales, 24, came to West Valley Superior Court out of custody Thursday for an arraignment, but was taken into custody at the end of the hearing after a judge set his bail at $450,000.

Prosecutors have charged Gonzales with four felonies for the Aug. 16, 2009 crash that killed Alyssa Nicole Randles, 22.

Gonzales allegedly made a left turn in his pickup truck into the path of Randles’ Volkswagen at Euclid and Schaefer avenues in Ontario.

Gonzales pleaded not guilty Thursday to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit and run resulting in death, and two drunken driving charges.

He remains jailed at Adelanto Detention Center, according to booking records, and he is next due in court March 10, court records show.

Trial under way for Phillips Ranch woman who killed husband

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POMONA — A Phillips Ranch woman was driven by jealousy to shoot and kill her husband last year, after she learned he was cheating on her with a college student half his age, jurors heard today in the wife’s trial.

Prosecutors accuse Adrienne Davidson, 47, of planning for several weeks, then shooting Ezra Davidson in the head as he slept on Jan. 1, 2009.

The wife had recently learned that her husband was seeing a USC student. He was paying her tuition and providing her other financial support, according to testimony from the couple’s 22-year-old daughter.

Today was the first day of testimony in Davidson’s murder trial in Pomona Superior Court.

Adrienne Davidson’s attorney, Winston McKesson, said the woman should be convicted of manslaughter, not murder, because her act came after years of emotional and physical abuse at the hand of her husband.

The shooting was done in the “heat of passion,” McKesson said.

After she shot and killed her husband, Adrienne Davidson confessed to police.

Jurors watched a half-hour video today of an emotional conversation between Adrienne Davidson and her daughter after the shooting, when the daughter visited her mother at the Pomona City Jail.

During the visit, Adrienne Davidson said her husband “just broke my heart.”

Jessica Davidson, the couple’s daughter, testified that she urged her mother to contact a divorce attorney after the family learned of Ezra Davidson’s affair.

In response, Adrienne Davidson told her daughter she would “take care if it” on Jan. 1. She didn’t elaborate about what she meant by the vague statement, Jessica Davidson testified.

The family learned that Ezra Davidson had purchased a car for his mistress, while his daughter was driving a car that she said she felt unsafe in.

“I was struggling” financially, the daughter testified.

Before his death, Ezra Davidson was staying many nights in a condo in downtown Los Angeles. He claimed he stayed there because it more easily accommodated his work schedule, his daughter testified.

Ezra Davidson was a well-known online media entrepreneur who co-founded a online video company called SyncCast.

Jessica Davidson testified that she saw her father abuse her mother once, when she was 10 or 11 years old and the family lived in Austria.

She and her mother were sitting together in an upstairs family room, and her father came into the room yelling, the daughter testified.

Ezra Davidson grabbed his wife “and dragged her down two flights of stairs,” the daughter testified.

Jessica Davidson said the attack was prompted by her mother cutting holes in Ezra Davidson’s shirts after she discovered he was having an affair with a stripper.

Shooter testifies that barber was aggressor in Pomona killing

POMONA — A man accused of shooting and killing a barber took the witness stand today in his murder trial and testified that the barber was the aggressor in the incident, and he shot him because he feared for his life.

Omari Ali testified that Larry Hammett, a barber for 16 years at Groom Time in Pomona, pointed a gun at his face after Ali declined to buy Hammett’s marijuana and told him it was low-grade.

Ali, 21, said he feared Hammett was going to shoot him, so he took the gun from Hammett and shot at him indiscriminately, striking him seven times.

Hammett, 46, of Ontario, died from his wounds in the July 27, 2008 incident.

Prosecutors believe Ali and his friend Keyon Rasheed Hill, 20, went to Groom Time to rob Hammett, and killed him when he resisted their robbery attempt. Hill declined to testify today.

After the shooting, Hammett’s pockets were turned inside-out and his wallet was missing, as was a large bag of marijuana that witnesses said he kept there.

Attorneys are set to give closing arguments Friday morning in Pomona Superior Court, and when arguments end the jury will begin deliberations.

Ali, of Los Angeles, testified that he and his girlfriend, Breeana Finley, went to Pomona with Hill to look at low-income apartments. Hill is from the Pomona area and his aunt managed a complex in the city, Ali said.

After driving to the complex, Hill discovered that his aunt was not working, so the group left for the barbershop, Ali testified.

Hill told the group he wanted to visit the Holt Avenue barbershop to buy marijuana from Hammett, and as they traveled there it occurred to Ali that he could try to buy a quarter-pound of marijuana from Hammett to later sell himself, Ali testified.

“I needed to support me and my girlfriend,” Ali said.

When they arrived at the barbershop, Ali said he waited outside a backroom office while Hill spoke to Hammett about possibly selling a quarter-pound to Ali, who said he had about $200 with him.

After about 15 seconds, Hill opened the office door and introduced Ali to Hammett before leaving the two alone to conduct business, Ali testified.

Hammett told Ali that he didn’t have a quarter-pound of marijuana with him right then, but he could get it, according to Ali.

Hammett then gave Ali a sample of the marijuana, and after smelling it Ali told him he didn’t want to buy from Hammett because the marijuana didn’t smell high-quality, Ali testified.

“I guess he took it as offensive, because he said I was wasting his time,” Ali said.

Ali said he turned to leave the office but Hammett pulled him back, pushed him several times, and told said he couldn’t leave until Hammett allowed it, according to Ali.

Ali said he shoved Hammett and again turned to leave, and Hammett again grabbed him and pulled him back. But this time, according to Ali, Hammett was holding a gun in his right hand.

“I’ll blow your face off,” Hammett said, according to Ali.

The two men struggled over control of the gun, and Ali said he took control of it and immediately began firing at Hammett.

“I shot at him,” Ali said. “I was scared. … I felt like I had to protect my life. I’m not a killer.”
Ali testified that he ran out of the barbershop holding Hammett’s gun, but didn’t take anything else.

The group went from the barbershop to Hill’s friend’s house in Pomona, and while they were there Ali said he threw away the gun from the barbershop in a curbside trash can nearby.

Ali’s description of Hammett’s behavior contradicts much of what the jury has heard this week about Hammett’s character. His friends and co-workers at the barbershop said they never knew the barber to carry a gun.

The jury was told today that Ali has three prior felony convictions: for assault, marijuana sales and gun possession.

They also watched a 20-minute video of Ali’s brother and mother visiting Ali at the Pomona City Jail after he was arrested.

During the visit, Ali’s brother, Rasheed Ali, wrote messages to his brother on a piece of paper that he held up to the glass that separates suspects from visitors.

When police seized the note, they found references to a gun as well as other potentially incriminating passages.

Ali said on the witness stand today that he didn’t remember his brother showing him the note.

Ali and Hill’s defense attorneys implied in their questioning this week that Hammett’s marijuana may have been missing from the barbershop after the shooting not because of a robbery, but because Hammett’s friends cleaned the crime scene before police arrived to keep it secret that Hammett was selling drugs.

Doctor: Barber shot seven times in Pomona killing

POMONA — A barber who was killed during an alleged robbery was shot seven times, suffering multiple wounds that by themselves would have been fatal, a medical examiner testified today.

And one of the wounds entered Larry Hammett’s body from above his head, the doctor testified, indicating that the 46-year-old Ontario man may have been on the ground when he was shot at the Groom Time barbershop on Holt Avenue.

David Whiteman, who performed Hammett’s autopsy, was one of only two witnesses to testify today during the Pomona Superior Court murder trial of two men accused of robbing and killing Hammett on July 27, 2008.

Alleged shooter Omari Ali, 21, and Keyon Rasheed Hill, 20, visited Groom Time to allegedly rob a large amount of marijuana from Hammett, who sold drugs out of the barbershop.

Prosecutors believe Hammett was shot because he resisted the men’s robbery attempt. Ali and Hill could face life without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Whiteman testified today, the third day of testimony in the trial, that Hammett suffered gunshot wounds to his chest, back, right arm and right hand. Another bullet grazed his chest, the doctor testified.

Defense attorneys for Ali and Hill keyed in during their cross-examination on the doctor’s finding that blood tests showed Hammett had marijuana in his system when he was killed.

After the doctor’s brief testimony, the lead investigator from the Pomona Police Department took the witness stand and detailed the crime scene and other evidence recovered in the case.

Detective Andrew Bebon said Ali received a text message about a week after the shooting indicating that he may have been conducting a marijuana transaction.

The person who sent the message told Ali he could sell a “Q” for $140, Bebon said.

The detective, a narcotics officer for 16 years, said he believed “Q” meant either a “quarter-piece” of cocaine or a quarter-ounce of marijuana.

Prosecutors believe Ali and Hill took a large amount of marijuana from Hammett at Groom Time.
Bebon, who is likely the prosecution’s final witness, is scheduled to retake the stand Thursday morning.

Former employee convicted in Sycamore Inn stabbing case

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A jury deliberated for less than two hours this afternoon before finding a Colton man guilty of attempted murder and other crimes for stabbing his former boss in the neck during a robbery attempt at the Sycamore Inn.

Prosecutors accused Travis Lee Mascarenas, a former assistant manager at the historic Rancho Cucamonga steakhouse, of sneaking in a back door at closing time on Aug. 7, 2007 intending to take money from a safe in a back office.

But once inside the restaurant, he encountered his former boss, manager Louis Alvarez. And after Mascarenas realized he had been recognized, he stabbed Alvarez hoping to kill him, prosecutors alleged.

A jury of six men and six women found Mascarenas guilty of four felony counts, and found additional “special allegations” true, which will lengthen his prison sentence.

The victim of Mascarenas’ attack, Louie Alvarez, said after the hearing that he was “overjoyed” by the verdicts.

“It’s been a long time coming — two and a half years,” he said.

After Mascarenas stabbed Alvarez, the men grappled for control of the knife. It fell out of Mascarenas’ hand, and Alvarez testified that he kicked it out of Mascarenas’ reach before fleeing for help.

Mascarenas will likely face a sentence of 23 years to life in prison, said Deputy District Attorney Kyung Kim.

“I think it’s what it should have been,” Kim said of the verdicts. “I’m glad the jurors listened.”

Mascarenas claimed on the witness stand this week that he was intoxicated during the incident, and his attorney argued today that Mascarenas was too drunk to intend to kill his former boss.

Alvarez today called Mascarenas’ drunkenness claims a “bald-faced lie.”

“I know for a fact he was not drunk the night it happened, and for him to lie on the stand with everything, he said, it was insulting,” Alvarez said.

Mascarenas’ attorney, Mary Bernal-Flores, told jurors in her closing argument that Mascarenas suffered from alcoholism, which she called a “mental disorder.”

She told jurors that Mascarenas was remorseful for his actions, and he didn’t intend to kill Alvarez when he stabbed him in the neck.

She faulted the sheriff’s investigation into the crime, and questioned why deputies didn’t measure Mascarenas’ blood-alcohol content when he was arrested in the hours after the incident.

“If there are missing pieces in a puzzle, then a crime has not been committed,” Bernal-Flores said.

In rebuttal comments to the jury, Kim called Mascarenas a coward and a liar, and he ridiculed defense claims that Mascarenas was too drunk to form an intent to kill.

“Please apply your common sense,” Kim told jurors. “It’s been utterly lacking in the defense.”

Alvarez said he didn’t believe Mascarenas was sincere in his apology.

“It was to put on a show for the jury, to get sympathy,” Alvarez said. “He went to the restaurant with one intention, and did what he set out to do, or more.”

Arraigment postponed in Ted Greene Park slayings

POMONA — Six teens charged with murder for last month’s double slaying at Ted Greene Park appeared in court today for an arraignment, but the hearing was postponed, a prosecutor said.

The Pomona teens are accused of confronting a group of gang rivals Jan. 29 at the park at Orange Grove and La Verne avenues.

Denzel Isaiah Omar, 14, allegedly opened fire on the rival group with a 22-caliber rifle, killing Timmy Moore, 17, and Prithesh Dunn, 15, and injuring a 16-year-old boy.

Omar and his five co-defendants — all 16 or 17 years old — are next due in Pomona Superior Court March 16, said Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd.

Montclair man pleads not guilty to murder

POMONA — A Montclair man pleaded not guilty today in Pomona Superior Court to charges that he fatally shot a man, a prosecutor said.

Andrew Lopez Jr., 29, is charged with murder for allegedly shooting and killing Rudy Partida in Pomona on June 14. Partida died after officer found him suffering from wounds in the 300 block of Gambier Street.

Lopez was arrested last month at his home in the 9400 block of Carrillo Street in Montclair. He is next due in court April 1, said Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd.

Sentencing delayed for man convicted of shooting at Ontario officer

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Sentencing was postponed today for a Pomona gang member convicted of shooting at an Ontario police officer after a traffic stop, a prosecutor said.

Jason Granado, 43, told a judge today in West Valley Superior Court that he was unhappy with his attorney’s performance during his trial, and he requested a new attorney to help him argue that he deserves a new trial, said Deputy District Attorney Carlo DiCesare.

Granado is scheduled to return to court Friday to be appointed a new attorney, DiCesare said.

Granado shot at a police officer several times after the officer pulled him over for running through a stop sign at Fourth Street and Cucamonga Avenue in Ontario, according to prosecutors.

He faces up to 98 years to life in prison when sentenced because he has seven strike convictions, DiCesare said.

DiCesare predicted that it would be at least a month before Granado is sentenced, because his new attorney will need time to review Granado’s case before making a motion for a new trial.

Driver testifies in Pomona barbershop killing

POMONA — It was her first visit to Pomona, and Breeana Finley believed she had come to the city to look at apartments with her boyfriend and another man.

Instead, the Los Angeles woman said she unwittingly became a getaway driver after her two companions allegedly robbed a barber and shot him to death at a Holt Avenue barbershop.

That was Finley’s testimony this afternoon, when she took the witness stand in the Pomona Superior Court murder trial of two men accused of killing 46-year-old Larry Hammett of Ontario, a longtime barber at Groom Time.

Omari Ali, 21, and Keyon Rasheed Hill, 20, are accused of robbing Hammett of money and marijuana on July 27, 2008, and shooting him to death when he tried to resist.

Clad in blue jail scrubs, Finley testified Tuesday that she drove to Pomona with her boyfriend Ali and Hill, who is from the Pomona area, to look for an apartment to share with Ali, who she had dated for six years.

Finley had discovered three weeks earlier that she was pregnant, and she wanted to move out of her aunt’s home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles before the child was born, she testified.

After visiting an apartment building in Pomona, Hill told her at about 11 a.m. to stop at Groom Time, where he said he wanted to buy marijuana, Finley testified.

Hill directed Finley along Holt and told her to turn into the alley that runs behind Groom Time. Finley testified that she parked in the alley and read a book while Ali and Hill went into the barbershop.

Soon after, Finley said she heard three to four gunshots and saw people run out. Ali and Hill also ran out, with Hill carrying a black bag and Ali holding a white cloth.

After the men got to the car, Hill asked Finley to pop her trunk, and he put the bag in the trunk, Finley testified.

After the shooting, Finley claims she didn’t have a detailed discussion with the two men about what happened in the barbershop, saying only that they talked about how “there was a shooting.”

Finley said that she knew nothing about a robbery and felt she was innocent.

She was initially charged with murder along with Ali and Hill, and faced life in prison. Though she maintained her innocence today, Finley said she took a plea bargain for 11 years rather than face a life prison sentence.

Other witnesses today included a woman who went to the barbershop the day of Hammett’s death to see her boyfriend, who worked as a barber at Groom Time.

The woman said that shortly after she arrived, Ali and a man she didn’t recognize went into a backroom office at the barbershop with Hammett.

She said she heard sounds of a struggle inside and heard Hammett repeatedly scream, “Folks.” She and other people in the barbershop rushed to help Hammett.

She said she soon heard the sound of gunshots from behind the office door.

“He had to empty the whole clip,” the woman testified. “There were so many shots going on.”

After the shots were fired, the woman said she hid in a bathroom only feet from the office.

She said she heard the sound of bags rustling in the office, as if the alleged robbers were going though items, and then she heard one of them say, “Come on. Hurry up.”

She said that after she heard the men leave through the barbershop’s back door she tended to Hammett, who was lying face-down in the office.

Hammett was “fighting for his life and trying to breathe,” the woman testified, and she turned him onto his back and performed CPR until paramedics and police arrived.

“His pants pockets was turned out like someone was going through it,” the woman said.

Ali was arrested in Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m. the day of the shooting, and a small green scale was found in his pocket along with “green leafy flakes” that smelled like marijuana, Los Angeles police officer Brian Thayer testified today. Thayer said Ali also gave a false name of Clarence Clark.

Hammett’s wife of about 15 years, Annette Joseph, was shown the scale in court during her testimony today.

She said she was “positive” the scale belonged to Hammett, and she remembered seeing at home before Hammett was killed.

“Last time I saw it it was in my kitchen,” Joseph said.