Mt. Baldy man sentenced to 180 years to life in molestation case

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA – A Mt. Baldy man convicted of sexually abusing his ex-girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter was sentenced this afternoon to 180 years to life in prison.

Gabriel Jimenez Garcia, 42, was convicted by a jury in February of 12 counts of continuous sexual abuse of a minor. Prosecutors accused Garcia of raping the Montclair girl two or three times a month for a full year in 2007 and 2008.

Each of the 12 counts carries a sentence of 15 years to life, and Judge Stephan G. Saleson opted today to run each prison term back-to-back, bringing the total sentence to 180 years to life, said Deputy District Attorney Karen Schmauss.

The girl testified in a preliminary hearing last year that Garcia, a former cook at the Mt. Baldy Lodge, would visit her home every Tuesday to see the twins he fathered with the girl’s mother.

When the girl’s mother picked up her other children from school each afternoon, the girl and Garcia would be alone in the house and he would often force her to have sex, the girl testified.

Garcia’s defense attorney, Robert Von Schlichting, said in West Valley Superior Court today that he would appeal Garcia’s case, Schmauss said.

Retrial set for Ontario man whose attempted murder conviction was overturned on appeal

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LOS ANGELES – An Oct. 4 trial date was set this morning for an Ontario man whose attempted murder conviction was overturned on appeal.

It’s been eight months since a federal judge threw out Rafael Madrigal’s conviction, citing evidence that indicates the 34-year-old was innocent of the crime for which he was imprisoned for nearly a decade.

Since Madrigal’s release on bail in October, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has reviewed evidence and re-interviewed witnesses in preparation for a possible retrial, Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila told a judge this morning.

When asked after the hearing whether prosecutors have made a firm decision to bring Madrigal’s case to trial, Avila was noncommittal. “We’re evaluating the case as we proceed,” he said.

Madrigal’s conviction for a 2000 gang shooting in East Los Angeles was based largely on two witnesses who identified Madrigal as the shooter in photos shown to them by Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives.

But according to Madrigal and several of his co-workers, the married father of three children was at work in Rancho Cucamonga until a half hour after the shooting.

In an October order granting bail for Madrigal, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marc L. Goldman faulted Madrigal’s original defense attorney for failing to adequately present Madrigal’s alibi during his trial.

During this morning’s hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, attorneys discussed with Judge Curtis B. Rappe the progress they’ve made in preparing for trial.

Avila said he’s handed over 800 pages of discovery – such as police reports – to Madrigal’s three-attorney defense team.

The defense is also seeking reports from the prosecution about a shooting in the 1990s that the defense believes can help prove the actual identity of the shooter in Madrigal’s case.

Rappe scheduled a May 24 hearing to rule whether the prosecution must hand over evidence in the prior shooting.

Rappe said he wanted the case to come to trial quickly, so that if Madrigal is acquitted he can move on with his life. And if he is acquitted, prosecutors could then begin work investigating the identity of the actual shooter.

“I think Mr. Madrigal, whether he’s innocent or guilty, deserves a swift resolution to this,” Rappe said. “… It’s been under this cloud for years now.”

Rappe, citing the seriousness of the charges Madrigal faces, denied a request by Madrigal’s defense to eliminate electronic monitoring as a condition of Madrigal’s release on bail.

Madrigal, who is fitted with a GPS-tracking device on his ankle, spends half his income paying for the monitoring program, one of his attorneys, Melanie Natasha Henry, told the judge.

The monitoring condition also prohibits Madrigal from many activities, such having dinner with his wife at a restaurant, “that he has already missed all those years in prison,” Henry told the judge.

Rappe said he might reconsider his ruling once there is a firm trial date for Madrigal’s case.

Murder trial starts in Chino revenge killing

CHINO — Miguel Ramos’ wife had left him, and rumors spread in the city that she left because she’d had an affair with another man and was pregnant with his child.

So on May 10, 2008, Ramos took revenge by shooting and killing his wife’s alleged lover — 25-year-old Valentin Barria, Ramos’ cousin.

That’s what jurors heard this afternoon in a prosecutor’s opening statement during Ramos’ murder trial in Chino Superior Court.

Deputy District Attorney Anil Kaushal spent nearly half and hour detailing evidence linking Ramos, 29, of Chino, to Barria’s killing at a party on Fifth Street.

“(Ramos) was enraged at (Barria),” Kaushal told jurors. “He blamed him for many things. … Whether it was jealousy or pure anger, that will be for you to decide.”

Ramos’ defense attorney declined to give an opening statement. Judge Gerard S. Brown told jurors Ramos’ attorney will speak at the start of the defense portion of the trial.

The night of Barria’s killing, several witnesses watched Barria greet Ramos outside the party — a girl’s quinceaera or confirmation celebration — and hand him a beer, Kaushal said.

Ramos opened the beer, took a sip, and set it down. He told Barria, “You owe me something,” then took out a revolver and opened fire on his cousin, Kaushal said.

Ramos shot Barria four times — with three shots to Barria’s chest and a defensive wound to his hand. After Barria fell to the ground, Ramos shot him in the head, Kaushal said.

Immediately after the killing, Ramos drove to Orange County, where his parents and other relatives live, Kaushal said.

Chino police detectives arrested him about a week later at a home in Stanton where he had rented a room for $200 to $300 a month, Kaushal said.

After his arrest Ramos confessed to killing his cousin. When asked how he felt about Barria’s killing, Ramos said he was both relieved and sad, Kaushal said.

According to Kaushal, Ramos told told detectives he purchased a loaded revolver for $100 at a swap meet in Pomona.

“He planned the killing, knew exactly how he was going to do it, knew exactly where he was going to do it,” Kaushal said.

Defense rests in former teacher’s sexual abuse trial

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Testimony ended this morning in the trial of a former Upland elementary school teacher accused of molesting students, with defense attorneys calling their final witnesses in West Valley Superior Court.

Today’s defense testimony appeared designed to undermine claims by two alleged victims that their teacher, 43-year-old James Andrew Megaw, touched them sexually or made lewd comments.

Megaw’s trial will next be in session Monday, when attorneys in the case are scheduled to give closing arguments to a jury of six men and six women. After closing arguments, jurors will begin deliberating.

Megaw, of Rancho Cucamonga, is charged with four felonies for allegedly committing lewd acts with students at Valencia Elementary School in Upland.

Six of Megaw’s former students detailed abuse claims during the trial — three from Megaw’s 2008-2009 class, one from three years ago, and two from Megaw’s classes nearly a decade ago.

The students’ accusations vary. Some said Megaw rubbed their genitals through their clothing during class time, while others said he pressed their hands to the crotch area of his pants.

The school’s custodian took the witness stand today to undermine testimony last week by a former student that Megaw made a sexually suggestive comment to him as both stood at side-by-side urinals in a school bathroom.

The custodian, Royl Kneezle, testified that there is only one urinal in each school bathroom. And he said it’s always been that way in the 26 years he’s worked at the school.

Jurors were shown photos in court of one of the school bathrooms. There were nearly 6-foot-high partitions on either side of the urinal.

Megaw’s defense also sought to undermine the credibility of a girl who testified last week that Megaw held her hand during class hours and forced it near the crotch area of his pants.

When the girl was interviewed at the San Bernardino County Department of Children’s Services, she said she saw Megaw touch some of her classmates, and she named several girls as alleged victims, according to testimony by Forensic Interview Specialist Kim Lowenberg.

One of the girls named by the alleged victim testified today, and denied that Megaw ever touched her. The girl also said she never saw Megaw touch the alleged victim.

Man sentenced to prison in Chino Spectrum shooting

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CHINO — An alleged marijuana dealer accused of shooting a customer in a robbery attempt was sentenced to more than seven years in prison Wednesday after pleading no contest to criminal charges.

Prosecutors accused Christopher O, 20, of luring the victim to the Chino Spectrum shopping center with a promise of drugs, and instead shooting the man twice as he tried to rob him.

The alleged victim in the Nov. 4 incident was shot in the thigh and ankle, and suffered a fractured bone and severed artery.

O, of Ontario, pleaded no contest to attempted robbery in a plea agreement with prosecutors in Chino Superior Court. Judge Gerard S. Brown sentenced O to seven years and four months in prison.

O was initially charged with attempted murder and attempted robbery in the case, but in exchange for his plea prosecutors agreed to dismiss the attempted murder count.

About two hours before the shooting, O sent a text message to his girlfriend complaining that he’d lost money at a casino the night before, and planned to “jack somebody,” according to police reports attached to O’s court file.

According to the report, O met the alleged victim at about 3:45 p.m. in a parking lot near Mimi’s Cafe.

About a minute after O entered the buyer’s parked car, O allegedly said, “Sorry man, you’re getting jacked,” and pulled out a pistol.

The men then struggled over control of the gun, and O allegedly opened fire, the report says.

The men left the car and continued to fight for control of the gun. The weapon dropped to the ground and O fled, the report says.

Chino police officers arrested O that night near his home in the 3200 block of Stallion Street, and the alleged victim identified him as the shooter.

More defense witnesses support teacher in molestation trail

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — In the second day of defense testimony today in a former elementary school teacher’s molestation trial, colleagues, former students and their parents took the witness stand and said they never saw James Andrew Megaw sexually abuse students.

“I feel he’s innocent,” testified Karen Tanner, one of Megaw’s former colleagues at Valencia Elementary School in Upland.

Megaw, 43, is charged with four felonies for allegedly touching students’ genitals in his class of second- and third-graders.

Megaw’s defense team contends one of the alleged victims lied about the abuse, while other children are mistaken.

Most of the alleged victims were students in Megaw’s 2008-2009 class.

This afternoon in West Valley Superior Court, several people who observed Megaw’s class that year testified that they never saw any abuse take place.

Renee Noble said she taught in the classroom next to Megaw’s, and the two classrooms were connected by an adjoining door.

“Those doors can’t be locked,” Noble testified. “They don’t have locks on them.”

Noble testified that she often visited Megaw’s class, and she never knocked or asked permission before entering.

She said she never saw Megaw, of Rancho Cucamonga, have inappropriate contact with students.

Under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Jason Anderson, Noble said she typically spent less than one percent of the school day in Megaw’s classroom.

Besides Noble and Tanner — whose son was in Megaw’s class five years ago — another teacher and class volunteer also said they never saw Megaw abuse students.

Tanner’s son, an eighth grade student at Pioneer Junior High School, testified that he never say Megaw abuse students.

The final defense witness today was a girl who was in Megaw’s 2008-2009 class. The girl testified about an episode involving one of Megaw’s alleged victims that’s central in Megaw’s defense.

The girl said she saw a boy in her class pass a note to his friend. A substitute teacher found the note, and the principal was called to the class as if the boys were in trouble.

That night, the boy who passed the note told his parents Megaw had been molesting him since the first week of the school year.

Megaw’s defense attorneys allege the boy concocted the abuse allegation to avoid punishment for the note, which contained curse words.

Testimony in Megaw’s trial is set to continue Thursday morning.

Boy, 17, convicted of murder in Pomona killing

POMONA — A 17-year-old boy was convicted of murder this afternoon in the death of 24-year-old Miguel Martin, who was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Mission Avenue market.

Jose Luis Gutierrez was charged as an adult in the case, and he faces 40 years to life in prison when sentenced May 24 for second-degree murder, said Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd.

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for three days in Pomona Superior Court before reaching their verdict, Dodd said.

“I think it’s appropriate,” Dodd said of the verdict.

Prosecutors said Gutierrez may have been motivated to kill Martin on Dec. 5, 2008 in retailiation for a previous dispute between Martin and two of Gutierrez’s friends.

A convicted accessory in the case, Albert Matthew Sandoval, testified during Gutierrez’s trial that he and Gutierrez were together during Martin’s killing.

Sandoval testified that Gutierrez left Sandoval’s car, which was parked on the south side of Mission, and ran across the street to Guadalajara Market, in the 1100 block of West Mission.

Sandoval testified that he saw people scatter in the market’s parking lot, and then Gutierrez ran back to his car holding a handgun. An eyewitness to the shooting also identified Gutierrez as the possible shooter.

During the defense portion of the case, two of Gutierrez relatives provided an alibi for him. Gutierrez’s aunt and cousin testified that Gutierrez was visiting their home — about a mile away from the market — when Martin, of Pomona, was shot.

Alleged getaway driver in barber’s killing sentenced to 11 years

POMONA – The accused getaway driver in the shooting death of barber Larry Hammett was sentenced this morning to 11 years in state prison.

Breeana Finley’s sentencing in Pomona Superior Court came after Judge Bruce F. Marrs rejected a request by the Los Angeles woman to back out of a plea bargain she struck with prosecutors.

Finley, 21, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in February in the death of Hammett, 46, who was shot and killed July 27, 2008 at the Groom Time barbershop in Pomona in what prosecutors alleged was a robbery.

Though she pleaded no contest in the case, Finley maintained she was innocent and knew nothing of the shooting and alleged robbery either before or after it occurred.

She made a motion to withdraw her plea after a jury in March convicted Hammet’s shooter, Omari Ali, of voluntary manslaughter, and acquitted an alleged accomplice, Keyon Rasheed Hill.

In denying Finley’s motion to withdraw her plea, Marrs said Finley was suffering “buyer’s remorse” following the jury’s verdicts.

“A plea should not be withdrawn because a defendant changes her mind,” Marrs said.

In her trial testimony, Finley said she traveled to Pomona with Ali and Hill to look at apartments in the city. She was pregnant by Ali, her boyfriend, and the couple wanted to have their own home before the child was born, Finley testified.

She said she drove Ali and Hill to Groom Time, 924 E. Holt Ave., because Ali said he wanted to purchase marijuana from Hammett, who sold the drug out of a back office at the barbershop.

Ali said in his testimony that Hammett was the aggressor in the incident that led to his death.

Ali testified that Hammett threatened him with a gun after Ali declined to purchase his marijuana. Ali said he feared for his life, so he grabbed the gun from Hammett and shot at him indiscriminately, hitting him seven times.

Finley maintained in her trial testimony that she drove Ali and Hill back to Los Angeles afterward knowing nothing of the shooting.

Finley’s attorney, Duane Dade, said in court that Finley was urged to take the plea bargain by her father to avoid a life sentence. But she always claimed she was innocent, and was crying when she pleaded no contest Feb. 11, Dade said.

Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan told Marrs that Finley’s decision to enter into a plea bargain was a “calculated move” motivated by worry that she’d be convicted at trial and face a longer sentence.

But Finley “sees Hill’s been acquitted, and she wants to change her mind,” Phan said.

As Finley was led out of court, handcuffed and shackled and wearing blue jail scrubs, she turned to her attorney said, “You just ruined my life, you know that?”

From the audience, Finley’s father said, “You’ll get through it.”

Man pleads not guilty in Pomona murder case

POMONA — A man accused of shooting and killing someone to avenge his brother’s death pleaded not guilty this morning to murder.

Prosecutors accuse Joel Martin, 23, of shooting and killing Carlos Espinoza on Feb. 4, 2009 because he believed Espinoza was involved in the killing of Martin’s brother, 24-year-old Miguel Martin.

Joel Martin pleaded not guilty this morning in Pomona Superior Court, and is next scheduled to appear in court May 13 for a preliminary hearing, said Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd.

At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must present evidence — typically through testimony — for a case to proceed to trial.

Joel Martin allegedly shot and killed Espinoza at a bus stop in the area of Mission Boulevard and Buena Vista Avenue in Pomona — about a block east of where Miguel Martin was shot and killed two months earlier.

The murder case of Miguel Martin’s alleged shooter, 17-year-old Jose Luis Gutierrez, is currently in trial. A jury started its third day of deliberations in the case this morning.

Claremont doughnut shop owner pleads guilty to smuggling ivory

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Pictured: Ivory seized from Chau’s doughnut shop in Claremont (photo courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office).

LOS ANGELES — A Claremont doughnut shop owner has pleaded guilty to charges that he illegally purchased ivory from endangered African elephants on eBay.

Moun Chau, 50, will face up to five years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines when he is sentenced Oct. 18 in Los Angeles federal court.

Chau, who owns Pixie Donuts in Claremont and lives in Montclair, pleaded guilty April 8 to one count of importing ivory in part of a plea agreement reached with prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors accused Chau of conspiring with a seller in Thailand between May and November 2006 to import endangered African elephant tusks.

Chau allegedly purchased ivory though eBay, a popular auction website, from Samark Chokchoyma, who would allegedly ship the goods to Chau in disguised packages, including one shipment that Chokchoyma described in a customs declaration as a gift containing toys.

Chau imported about about $2,750 worth of ivory in the course of the conspiracy, prosecutors allege. Chokchoyma has been arrested in Thailand in connection with the alleged scheme and faces criminal charges there.

A woman working at the doughnut shop told a reporter today that Chau wasn’t there, and Chau did not respond to a request for comment. The doughnut maker has been free on $5,000 bail since his March arraignment.

In exchange for Chau’s guilty plea, federal prosecutors have agreed to drop a conspiracy charge against him, as well as recommend leniency in his sentencing, according to the plea agreement filed March 24.