Jurors hear opening statements in murder trial for 1992 stabbing at Rancho Cucamonga warehouse party


RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Jurors heard opening statements from attorneys today in a man’s murder trial for allegedly stabbing another man to death in 1992 at an illegal warehouse party.

A prosecutor told jurors that Freddy Najarro, 36, stabbed an unarmed Riverside man 13 or 14 times at the party in Rancho Cucamonga after becoming angry about the way the man watched Najarro dance with his girlfriend.

During his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney John Patrick Thomas projected a photo in the courtroom depicting 19-year-old Dennis Smalling lying unclothed on a hospital gurney.

“This is the ultimate result of that confrontation: Dennis Smalling laid out on a gurney — dead,” Thomas told jurors in West Valley Superior Court.

The investigation into Smalling’s death went cold after San Bernardino County sheriff’s detectives were unable to identify Smalling’s killer in an image captured from video footage of the party.

It remained cold until last year, when a woman browsing cold-case photos on a newspaper website saw the image of Smalling’s killer — she knew the man was Najarro, and she anonymously provided the tip to detectives, Thomas told jurors.

In the defense opening statement, Najarro’s attorney did not dispute that the Pomona man was involved in a fight with Smalling.

But Gary Wynings characterized their scuffle as mutual — with Najarro pitted against an opponent four inches taller than him.

“Mr. Smalling is beating the crap out of Mr. Najarro, according to several accounts you will hear,” Wynings told jurors.

Najarro and Smalling did not know each other prior to the May 15, 1992 party illegally staged in a vacant warehouse at 12027 Arrow Route, just west of the 15 Freeway, Thomas said.

Smalling went to the party with three friends, and Najarro went with his girlfriend and his brother, Thomas said.

Before visitors were admitted into the party, they were searched at the door for weapons. But Najarro, who was friends with some of the organizers, was not checked, Thomas said.

After attorneys in the case gave opening statements, Thomas called his first witness: Michael Alva, a friend of Smalling’s who was beside him when he was stabbed.

Before the stabbing, Alva said he spotted Smalling standing near the dance floor. He appeared tense, and his body language seemed to indicate something was wrong.

“I’m just thinking, ‘There’s something not right here,'” Alva testified.

Alva said he walked over and stood beside Smalling, whose eyes were locked on a man on the dance floor. Alva said he saw both men gesture at each other.

When Smalling’s adversary called used a racial epithet to describe Smalling — who was black — they began to fight, according to Alva.

“It was like instantly they started fighting,” he testified.

As Smalling punched the man in the face, his adversary pulled a knife or ice pick out of his pocket and repeatedly stabbed Smalling, Alva recalled.

During his testimony, Alva identified Najarro in court as the man who fought with Smalling.
After the fight, Alva said he found Smalling lying near one of the warehouse exits.

“He was lying down on his back and his intestines were out,” Alva said. “I saw his intestines.”

Smalling’s friends rushed him to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana. He was in full cardiac arrest by the time they arrived at the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In his cross-examination of Alva, Wynings’ questions emphasized Smalling’s aggressive actions during the fight — as if to bolster his self-defense theory in Smalling’s death.

During the struggle between Smalling and Najarro, several lights and a sound system were toppled, causing the warehouse to go dark.

Wynings questioned Alva about what he saw once the interior of the warehouse went black.

“So you can’t really say what happened to Dennis after the lights went out, right?” Wynings asked.

“Correct,” Alva responded.

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Upland man, 81, charged with child molestation


RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An 81-year-old Upland man is facing criminal charges for allegedly molesting a boy from his neighborhood last week after asking the child for help moving furniture in his home.

Clarence Grover Gordon, a retired steelworker, is a fixture at Upland City Council meetings. He often speaks during the public comment segment of the meetings, offering opinions on a wide range of city issues.

He was arrested June 18 after allegedly molesting the boy at his home in the 2200 block of Wendy Way.

Gordon was charged Tuesday with committing a lewd act on a child under 14, a charge that carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge Wednesday in West Valley Superior Court, and remains jailed in lieu of $250,000 in West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

In a 2005 Daily Bulletin article about Gordon, the married father of two said he has lived in Upland since the 1950s, but didn’t begin attending City Council meetings until the early 1990s.

“I didn’t like the way things were going in the city, but I was too busy when I was younger to do anything about it,” Gordon said in the article. “I think people should know what’s going on in the city and do something about what they don’t like.”

According to a police report attached to Gordon’s court file, Gordon has known the boy’s parents for several years.

So when he walked to their home seeking help at about 11:30 a.m. on June 18, the boy’s mother felt comfortable allowing her son to go to Gordon’s house.

Once the boy was inside Gordon’s home, the retiree sat down on his living room couch and told the boy to sit down next to him. No one else was in the house because Gordon’s wife had left earlier that day to tend to her daughter’s dogs.

According to the police report, the boy told officers that Gordon began touching his genitals, and continued touching him for 15 to 30 minutes.

“(The boy) said he told Gordon to stop three times,” Officer Gabriel Garcia wrote in a police report attached to Gordon’s court file. “(The boy) told Gordon he did not like it.

“Gordon said, ‘No, enjoy it. Enjoy it.’ (The boy) said it did not feel good and he told Gordon to ‘please stop.'”

When police interviewed Gordon the day of the alleged molestation, he admitted he touched the boy’s genitals, but he said the boy consented to the touching, according to the police report.

“I asked Gordon how old he thought the victim was, and he answered, ’12,'” Detective John DiVincenzo reported. “I asked Gordon how many children he had. He answered, ‘A daughter and a son.’

“I asked him, having been a parent of once-small children, if he thought it was appropriate for him, someone outside the family, to have a boy pull down his pants in his home and touch his penis. Gordon agreed it was wrong.”

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Principal’s sexual abuse case dismissed after prosecutors pass on retrial

POMONA — A prosecutor announced today that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will not retry a former Christian school principal on charges that he sexually abused students.

John Asher’s eyes welled with tears after his case was dismissed in Pomona Superior Court.

“I don’t know what to say except, I guess, I’m just finally grateful that after 38 months the truth has been revealed, that this is over and I can get on with my life,” Asher said.

Asher was arrested and charged with four felonies in 2007 after two students accused the 50-year-old of sexually abusing them nearly a decade ago at Life Center Christian School in Pomona.

A jury acquitted Asher on three felony counts in May, and deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal on a fourth count.

Prosecutors had the option of retrying Asher on the fourth count — for allegedly raping a student who was sent to his office to be disciplined.

Asher’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Miji Vellakkatel, said in an interview that a decision not to retry Asher was made after speaking to Asher’s accuser and her parents, and after further investigation in the case.

After Asher’s trial, investigators interviewed a student who was identified as a possible victim because she was often alone with Asher. He often gave the girl a ride home.

The student said Asher never abused her, Vellakkatel said.

The prosecutor said criminal charges could be refiled against Asher if authorities discover new evidence in the case, “whether it’s another victim or witness that could assist us in prosecuting the case.”

Judge Mike Camacho granted a defense motion to dismiss Asher’s case after Vellakkatel announced prosecutors would not pursue a retrial.

“Mr. Asher is excused. That’s it,” Camacho said.

After the hearing, Asher hugged his attorney and two supporters in the hallway outside Camacho’s courtroom.

When asked why he believes the former students accused Asher of sexual abuse, Asher’s attorney, David Robert Cohn, said, “We don’t have a clue. You can speculate about all kinds of things.”

The student who accused Asher of raping her first came forward in 2004, but criminal charges weren’t filed until three years later, when a student accused Asher of touching her sexually during the 2000-2001 school year.

The second alleged victim said in her trial testimony that she was unaware of the other student’s rape allegation when she came forward.

Asher’s defense implied the two students may have collaborated in their accusations.

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Trucker in fatal crash awaits prosecutors’ decision on retrial

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A prosecutor said today that a decision hasn’t been made on whether to retry a commercial driver whose runaway dump truck smashed into another vehicle, killing its driver.

Adam Ahlberg made his first court appearance today since a jury acquitted him of a felony and deadlocked on a misdemeanor for the June 16, 2006 death of Angel Calzada in Rancho Cucamonga.

A mistrial was declared after the jury failed to reach a verdict on the misdemeanor, and prosecutors have the option of retrying Ahlberg, 30, for vehicular manslaughter.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a retrial on the Ahlberg case yet,” said Ahlberg’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Charles Feibush.

Feibush said Ahlberg was ordered at today’s hearing to return to West Valley Superior Court on July 7 for a pre-trial hearing.

Ahlberg’s former employer, Clark Grading Inc., also faces criminal charges and has a court hearing that day, Feibush said.

Asked why a decision hasn’t been made yet on a retrial, Feibush said, “We’re looking at all possibilities, and these things take time.”

Calzada, a Rancho Cucamonga city employee, was pronounced dead at the scene after Ahlberg’s truck collided with his Ford F-250 at Archibald Avenue and Arrow Route.

Ahlberg’s brakes failed at the northern end of Archibald, and he reached speeds of up to 70 mph as he traveled south on the street’s downhill slope.

He blew through several stop signs and red lights before colliding with Calzada’s truck.

Prosecutors allege Ahlberg and Clark Grading knew the truck had faulty brakes and failed to properly repair them.

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Murder trial under way in cold case


RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Jury selection began today in a man’s murder trial in West Valley Superior Court for allegedly stabbing a Riverside man to death 18 years ago.

Freddy Najarro, 36, is accused of killing 19-year-old Dennis Smalling on May 15, 1992 at a warehouse party in Rancho Cucamonga.

Smalling’s death remained unsolved until last year, after San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detectives distributed playing cards in local jails with information about cold cases.

Najarro allegedly stabbed Smalling because he was unhappy with the way Smalling eyed his girlfriend at the party, according to authorities.

Najarro’s attorney argued at his preliminary hearing at Smalling was the aggressor in the incident.

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