Jury selection starts in former Pomona teacher’s attempted murder trial

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This photo of Augustine Anene is from his profile on a Nigerian newspaper website called Vanguard Online Community.

FONTANA – Jury selection has started in the trial of a former Garey High School computer instructor accused of trying to kill his estranged wife.

Augustine Anene, 54, is charged with attempted murder and other crimes for allegedly hiding in his wife’s bedroom closet in March, and emerging to attack her after she fell asleep.

Anene’s son interrupted the attack after he heard his mother screaming for help in the family’s Fontana home, according to a police report attached to Anene’s court file.

Attorneys in the case began choosing a jury Tuesday in Fontana Superior Court. The trial will next be in session Monday, with the case still in the jury selection phase, according to courtroom personnel.

Anene worked at Garey High School in Pomona for 18 years before resigning from his job the month after the alleged attack, according to a Pomona Unified School District spokesman.

He has remained jailed since his arrest in lieu of $1.2 million bail.

According to the police report, Anene’s wife of 19 years filed for divorce in December after a history of unreported domestic violence.

Anene’s wife obtained a restraining order against her husband, who moved into an apartment in Upland after the couple separated.

Anene’s wife told police she awoke the night of March 28 with her husband choking her and punching her in the face.

One of the couple’s sons kicked open her bedroom door, which was locked, and pushed Anene off his wife. The son held down Anene until police arrived.

The police report describes planning measures Anene may have taken to avoid capture by authorities.

The phones in his family’s home had been hidden prior to the attack. Anene’s car was without license plates when police found it parked three blocks away.

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Prosecutors mull plea offer in off-duty officers’ rape case

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Pictured (L-R): Anthony Nicholas Orban and Jeff Thomas Jelinek

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Prosecutors are considering whether to offer a plea bargain to a correctional officer accused of aiding his friend in the alleged kidnap and rape of a woman at gunpoint.

The prosecutor in Anthony Orban and Jeff Jelinek’s criminal case said today after a brief court hearing that her supervisors will ultimately decide whether to offer Jelinek a plea bargain.

“They don’t know if they’re going to make them an offer,” Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus said. “They’re kind of going back and forth.”

Jelinek, who worked at the California Institution for Men in Chino, is accused of standing by as Orban, a Westminster police detective, allegedly kidnapped a woman at gunpoint in the parking lot at Ontario Mills.

Both men were off-duty and had been drinking heavily prior to the April 3 incident.

The woman, a 25-year-old waitress and mother, testified last month in a preliminary hearing that after she was kidnapped, Orban sexually assaulted and battered her for more than an hour.

Orban, who is charged with nine felonies, faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life. Jelinek, 31, faces the same penalty because prosecutors allege he aided and abetted Orban.

Jelinek’s presence beside Orban during the alleged kidnapping helped Orban by further intimidating the woman, prosecutors believe.

Jelinek picked up Orban after the alleged assault, attempted to erase text messages from Orban, and initially lied to police about what he saw, according to prosecutors.

One of Jelinek’s attorneys, Ciprian Turcu, said he and Ploghaus have had informal discussions about a possible plea bargain for Jelinek. He said there hasn’t been a definitive offer.

Orban and Jelinek’s appearance today in West Valley Superior Court was largely uneventful. An Oct. 15 court date was scheduled for defense attorneys to introduce pre-trial motions in the case.

Turcu said he doesn’t believe a trial will be held in the case until next year.

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Witnesses detail fatal La Verne drunken driving crash

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Pictured (L-R): Renee Hardy and Telassie Dague.

POMONA — Tatiana Jaimes could tell that her childhood friend was too drunk to drive.

So when she saw Telassie Dague take her car keys out of her bra in January at a San Dimas bowling alley, Jaimes grabbed them out of her hand and told her not to drive.

Alan Michael McConnell, Dague’s friend, was standing nearby. He was visibly drunk, Jaimes testified today in Pomona Superior Court.

“(McConnell) grabbed my wrist and took the keys,” Jaimes said. “He was like, ‘I’m driving.’”
Jaimes told him he was too drunk to drive, and continued arguing with him until Dague interrupted.

“Lassie was like, ‘Just let him drive,’” Jaimes said.

Not long after McConnell snatched Dague’s keys, he drove her car into a tree along Foothill Boulevard in La Verne.

Dague, 22, and another passenger, 20-year-old Renee Hardy, were killed in the Jan. 23 crash. McConnell, 27, emerged from the car without serious injuries.

Blood tests revealed his blood-alcohol level was 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit, and he was charged with two counts of murder and other criminal charges.

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This morning at McConnell’s preliminary hearing, Jaimes and several other people testified about the crash, and a judge ruled that prosecutors presented enough evidence for McConnell’s case to proceed to trial.

The Covina man could face a prison sentence of 30 years to life if convicted of two counts of second-degree murder — charges he faces because he was convicted of drunken driving prior to the fatal crash.

McConnell was convicted of drunken driving last year in Orange County, and was again arrested for drunken driving in November.

McConnell, who wore blue jail scrubs in court, cried during much of the two-hour preliminary hearing and wiped tears from his face with a tissue.

His mother said in an interview that her son is remorseful and heartbroken.

Valerie Kennedy said McConnell and Dague were lifelong friends and were a couple “to some extent.” McConnell brings her picture to all of his court appearances, his mother said.

McConnell has said he has no memory of the crash, according to Kennedy.

“If he could take it all back, he would,” she said.

Jaimes testified that on the night of Jan. 22, she and a friend met Dague, McConnell and Hardy at the bar inside Chaparral Lanes. All three of them appeared drunk, she said.

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It was Jaimes’ first time meeting McConnell, who was introduced to her as “Brad.”

While the group was at the bar, McConnell suggested several times that the group drive to Fullerton.

Jaimes testified that she kept telling McConnell he was too drunk to drive, but he insisted on driving.

It was after midnight when the group decided they would take separate cars and meet at a bar closer to the bowling alley — the Hi-Brow on Foothill Boulevard in Upland.

As Jaimes and her friend walked to Jaimes’ car in the parking lot, she saw Dague’s car pass by.

“I saw the car speed by,” Jaimes said. “I was like, ‘Oh God,’ because it was going so fast.”

McConnell and his two passengers traveled about three miles before McConnell ran a red light at Foothill and Damien Avenue in La Verne and collided with another car.

According to the driver of the other car, McConnell activated his turn signal as if to indicate he was pulling over. Instead, he drove away at speeds later measured at 70 mph.

The driver, Bryan Sanchez, testified that McConnell’s car hit the curb on the right side of the roadway, then made a hard left turn over the median and collided with a tree.

By the time police and paramedics arrived, one of McConnell’s passengers was dead. The other was moments from dying, according to police testimony.

McConnell was knocked unconscious in the crash, and regained consciousness after police and paramedics arrived. His only other injury was a cut to his elbow, according to testimony from La Verne police officers.

After paramedics removed McConnell from the driver’s seat of the car, he told officers he wasn’t the driver.

He again changed his story at the scene, telling officers he wasn’t in the car, but had been dropped off after the crash by another driver, Cpl. Chris Fenner testified.

McConnell’s attorney, Rita Smith, said after the hearing that she believes life would too long of a sentence for McConnell.

“He understands,” Smith said. “He feels the pain the same that everyone else does. I think that should count for something.”

Smith said she’s not sure whether prosecutors are open to offering McConnell a plea bargain that carries a sentence shorter than life. She declined to say whether there have been any plea negotiations in the case.

McConnell’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Miji Vellakkatel, declined to comment to a reporter after the hearing. Dague’s parents also declined to comment.

McConnell is next due in court Aug. 10. He remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

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Veteran prosecutor supports Pomona PD

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In a “point of view” column on the opinion page of today’s Daily Bulletin, Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos urged the Pomona City Council not to disband the city’s police department. Here’s his full column:

Don’t replace Pomona police

By Richard Ceballos

Created: 07/25/2010 07:47:22 PM PDT

An open letter to Pomona’s mayor and City Council members:

As a 20-year veteran criminal prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and a 10-year-plus resident of the city of Pomona, I urge you not to move forward with plans to replace the Pomona Police Department with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Despite what you may have been told, or what you may have been led to believe, a change to the Sheriff’s Department will not be a change for the better as far as the law-abiding citizens of Pomona are concerned.

Simply put, there is no way the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will provide the same level of service and accountability to the residents of Pomona as the Pomona Police Department has been doing for all these years. I have worked in a number of cities that have contracted with the Sheriff’s Department before, and the level of services provided by them to those cities versus the level of services currently provided by the Pomona Police Department cannot even be compared. The Pomona department’s level of service easily surpasses that of most police departments in this county.

This fact is based on almost seven years as a prosecutor specially assigned to the Pomona courthouse, where I have personally witnessed, on a day-to-day basis, the efforts and dedication the Pomona police officers have exhibited in combating crime in this city.

Furthermore, you need to understand that if the city elects to “hire” the Sheriff’s Department, that department will not be accountable solely to the city of Pomona and its residents. The Sheriff’s Department must also concern itself with and be accountable to all the other cities it has contracts with, not to mention all the unincorporated areas of L.A. County.

If you, as the elected representatives in this city, are truly concerned about the future of Pomona, instead of wasting time seeking to replace the Police Department, you would better spend your energies developing ways to support the department.

This is a pivotal point in time for the city of Pomona. Do the right thing. Do the smart thing. Keep the Pomona Police Department intact. I promise you the citizens of Pomona will remember your decision come election time.

Richard Ceballos is a deputy district attorney with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He lives in Pomona.

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Past president accused of embezzling from booster club for Ayala High School girls basketball team

CHINO — A man identified by prosecutors as a past president of the booster club for Ayala High School’s girls basketball team has been charged with two felonies for allegedly embezzling from the club.

Prosecutors accuse Donald Williamson, 49, of taking more than $400 from the club between Nov. 20 and Dec. 1.

Williamson, of Chino Hills, was charged July 7 with embezzlement and grand theft, and is due in Chino Superior Court Aug. 18 for an arraignment.

Williamson’s ex-wife said today that she she was unaware of the allegations against her husband. She said she didn’t believe her former husband was capable of stealing from a high school booster club.

Pamela Williamson said her husband, a professional cook, was a good man and good father, and was honest during their marriage. She said the couple’s daughter attends Ayala, in Chino Hills.

Details about Williamson’s alleged theft, including the exact amount prosecutors believe he stole, were unavailable this week.

The San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who investigated the case did not return messages seeking comment.

The team’s former head coach, Mel Sims, did not return a call seeking comment today. Sims retired as coach last month after 17 seasons with the team.

A spokeswoman for the Chino Valley Unified School District said district administrators were unaware of the case prior to being contacted by a reporter.

The prosecutor who reviewed the sheriff’s department’s investigation and filed criminal charges against Williamson declined to discuss the case.

Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell said he didn’t want to comment on the case because it’s so early in the litigation.

According to San Bernardino County court records, Williamson was convicted of a misdemeanor in August 2008 for disturbing the peace and placed on probation for three years.

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