Testimony continues in teen’s slaying at Pomona party

LOS ANGELES – New details of a teen’s slaying at a Pomona house party were revealed in court testimony today during a preliminary hearing for seven young men charged in the case.

Marquis LeBlanc, 18, was beaten by a group of young men at a Virginia Avenue party on April 17, 2009 after he took out a gun and waved it at people, according to witnesses.

LeBlanc, of Diamond Bar, escaped his assailants after an initial beating and ran down Virginia Avenue. The group chased him and caught up to him four or five houses away, a witness said this morning.

A man struck LeBlanc in the head with a two-by-four and he dropped to the ground. The rest of the group commenced “stomping” the teen, according to a witness who watched the beating through a window at his home.

The crowd eventually dispersed, leaving LeBlanc on the ground, but two or three men remained. One of the men retrieved a handgun from a car. As he approached LeBlanc, who lay motionless, one of the other men confronted him, the witness said.

“He was pushing him, telling him not to do it, not to do it because it wasn’t worth it,” the witness said. “He just pushed him away.”

The man holding the gun walked to LeBlanc and shot him once, killing him. The man who tried to keep the shooter away lifted his hands to his head, the witness said.

Today was the second day of testimony in a preliminary hearing for seven young men charged in LeBlanc’s killing. Three others also face criminal charges, but a preliminary hearing for them won’t be held until November.

At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must present evidence for a case to proceed to trial.

Eight people are charged with murder for LeBlanc’s killing: Adrian Zuniga, 16; Luis Martinez, 19; Adam Delgado, 21; Edgar Cisneros, 20; Richard Vasquez, 18; Victor Guillen, 18; Ralph Richard Alfaro, 18; and Martin Haro, 16.

Efrain Prado, 21, and Haro are charged with assault. Arturo Casas, 21, is charged with robbery.

During the hearing at the Clara Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles, several witnesses have complained of intimidation from supporters of the defendants.

Judge William R. Pounders has admonished the defendants’ supporters not to speak to witnesses in courthouse hallways, and this afternoon he had his admonishment translated by a Spanish-language interpreter.

“I’m getting very tired of witnesses in this case being threatened,” the judge said.

Some witnesses – including those who have complained of intimidation – have recanted in their testimony prior statements to police identifying LeBlanc’s attackers.

One 19-year-old woman who recanted identifications of three of LeBlanc’s assailants began crying on the witness stand this afternoon when a prosecutor asked her if she feared retaliation.

Three of the witnesses to testify today described text messages they received from Haro after LeBlanc’s killing. In the messages, Haro used racial slurs to describe LeBlanc, who was black, and in one message said, “We killed the fool.”

Testimony in the hearing is set to resume Wednesday morning.

Witnesses recall teen’s slaying at Pomona party

LOS ANGELES – The first witnesses testified today in a preliminary hearing for several young men accused of participating in an 18-year-old man’s killing last year at a Pomona house party.

Marquis LeBlanc, 18, was beaten by group of men on April 17, 2009 at a party in the 2100 block of Virginia Avenue, then chased down the street and fatally shot as he tried to escape, prosecutors allege.

The crowd at the party was predominantly Latino, and during the incident many of the accused assailants hurled racial epithets at LeBlanc, who was black, witnesses said.

One of LeBlanc’s friends and a cousin of the party’s organizer detailed the incident on the witness stand today at the Clara Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The witnesses were identified in court, but their names are being withheld for fear of gang retaliation.

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

Seven of 10 young men charged in the case appeared in court today for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing for three of the defendants was postponed last week to Nov. 2 because of attorneys’ scheduling conflicts.

LeBlanc’s friend testified that he and LeBlanc – both Diamond Bar residents – were at a bowling alley in Diamond Bar with another friend when the witness received a text message about a house party in Pomona.

When the group arrived at the party at 10 or 10:30 p.m., there were 50 to 70 people there. LeBlanc was one of only three or four black people at the party, LeBlanc’s friend estimated.

LeBlanc and his friend tried to dance with girls at the party, but neither had any luck attracting a partner. Later, the friend said he saw a man wearing a windbreaker jacket with “Pomona” lettering confront LeBlanc.

The man pointed to a tattoo on his neck and said, “Do you see my tattoo?” the friend recalled. “Marquis was like, ‘I don’t want any problems.”

“It didn’t appear friendly or hostile,” the friend testified. “Marquis was brushing it off like it was nothing.”

LeBlanc and his friend became separated at the party, and the friend said he didn’t see LeBlanc again until he was shot.

A cousin of the organizer of party – thrown to celebrate a graduation – testified that she was inside the home, and through a window to the back yard she saw LeBlanc draw a pistol, wave it around and point it at several people.

People in the back yard scattered, providing space for LeBlanc to move along the side of the home toward the front, the woman testified.

But as LeBlanc moved away, the woman said several young men followed him. They caught up to him on the side of the house and began beating him, the woman said.

LeBlanc was laying on the ground, hunched over to protect himself, as a group of as many as 15 young men took turns kicking and punching him, the woman testified.

The woman said she opened the side door and cleared the crowd to help LeBlanc. She said she led him though a gate to the front yard and told him to run.

“He just looked at me, and he just ran down the street,” the woman said.

As LeBlanc ran away, 16 or 17 people chased him, the woman testified.

“I heard them say, ‘Stomp that [racial epithet]. Get him for what he did. Don’t let him go. Don’t let him go. Get him,’” the woman testified.

The woman said that after LeBlanc ran away, she went outside to close the front gate to the house.

“I heard somebody yell, ‘Pomona, Pomona,’ and that’s when I heard gunshots,” the woman testified.

When LeBlanc’s friend saw people scattering from the party and heard a gunshot in the street, he ran to find his friend. About four or five houses away he found LeBlanc lying on his back on the sidewalk, he testified.

LeBlanc had been shot and was unconscious. His friend testified that LeBlanc’s pants were pulled down as if people had rifled through his pockets.

“It looked like he was bleeding from the head,” the friend testified.

Eight people are charged with murder for LeBlanc’s killing: Adrian Zuniga, 16; Luis Martinez, 19; Adam Delgado, 21; Edgar Cisneros, 20; Richard Vasquez, 18; Victor Guillen, 18; Ralph Richard Alfaro, 18; and Martin Haro, 16.

Efrain Prado, 21, and Haro are charged with assault. Arturo Casas, 21, is charged with robbery.

Prosecutors initially charged seven people with murder, but Haro’s name was added to the count today in an amended complaint.

Prosecutors allege that the eight defendants charged with murder committed their crimes to benefit a street gang.

Testimony in the preliminary hearing is set to resume Tuesday morning.

Driver’s son speaks out in fatal Claremont accident

The son of the driver who struck and killed her friend Wednesday in the Claremont Village sent me an email today with new details on the incident.

Nicholas Calderon, son of driver Brenda Monahan, sent this message today about the accident that killed Catherine Shelton.

To whom it may concern:

Your article makes it seem like Brenda drove the car up the curb, into Catherine, and 100 feet after finally crashing into a planter.

As the car was parked Brenda reached back to grab her purse before exiting the car for Catherine to jump in and drive when the car may have jumped into gear (though its not confirmed how the car started to move). After jumping up the curb, Brenda battled with controlling the car, her left leg was actually run over and she was compressed between two cars as she hung onto the steering wheel trying to veer the car away from people where it finally crashed into the planter. She was not actually in control or driving the car, and the damages to the car on the driver’s side door show that the car impacted as the door was open–the door was bent out from the hinge, pushed out from its place. In addition, Brenda was not “sedated” but medicated by the doctors at the hospital. This information is supported by the police report, please review it.

Catherine was an incredible lady, and we all loved her dearly. She was a part of the family and this incident is a heavy pain for all of us to bear.

Regards,
Nicholas Calderon, son of Brenda Monahan.

Court testimony expected in teen’s killing at Pomona party

LOS ANGELES – About a dozen witnesses are expected to testify next week in a preliminary hearing for several young men charged in connection with a man’s killing last year at a party in Pomona.

Marquis LeBlanc, 18, of Diamond Bar, was beaten, stabbed and shot to death on April 17, 2009 outside a party in the 2200 block of Virginia Avenue, according to police.

Jessica Corde, LeBlanc’s mother, said her son was robbed and his assailants stole his shoes after the attack.

LeBlanc was the only black person at a party of about 200, which consisted primarily of Latinos. Leblanc’s family members believe race was a motive in his killing.

Prosecutors have charged seven men with murder, and three others face charges of assault or robbery.

A preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors must present evidence for a felony case to proceed to trial, was scheduled to begin this morning in the Clara Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The hearing was postponed to Monday because several defense attorneys had scheduling conflicts. The hearing is expected to last five days.

A preliminary hearing for three of the 10 defendants was postponed to Nov. 2 because of scheduling conflicts.

Charged with murder in the case are Adrian Zuniga, 16; Luis Martinez, 19; Adam Delgado, 21; Edgar Cisneros, 20; Richard Vasquez, 18; Victor Guillen, 18; and Ralph Richard Alfaro, 18.

Efrain Prado, 21, and Martin Haro, 16, are charged with assault. Arturo Casas, 21, is charged with robbery.

Prosecutors allege that the seven defendants charged with murder committed their crimes to benefit a street gang.

Driver, pedestrian in fatal Claremont crash were ‘best friends’

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Pictured are Catherine Shelton (left) and Brenda Monahan. (Photo from Facebook)

CLAREMONT — The pedestrian hit by a car and killed this week in the Village was identified by friends today as Catherine Shelton.

Shelton, 42, was killed Wednesday in the 400 block of West First Street when a car driven by her friend and roommate, Brenda Monahan, accelerated onto the sidewalk.

The women’s mutual friends said the incident was accidental, and said Monahan, who police interviewed and released at the crash scene, was devastated.

“They were like sisters,” said Chas Seward, Monahan’s boyfriend of nine years. “It was her best friend. It’s a tragedy.”

Monahan is the owner of Three French Hens, a Village boutique that is in the process of relocating to a vacant space in the city’s Village West shopping area.

Shelton, a real estate agent, was with Monahan Wednesday to help her with the boutique’s relocation, the women’s friends said.

According to one of Shelton’s co-workers at Coldwell Banker, the two women were inside Monahan’s Infiniti SUV at about 10:40 a.m. when it pulled into a parking space on the south side of First Street.

Shelton, who was in the front-passenger seat of the car, left the vehicle and walked around the front of the car toward the driver’s side, Paul Piedrahita said.

While Shelton was in front of the car, it accelerated and drove over the curb, striking Shelton, Piedrahita said.

Piedrahita said witnesses told him Shelton hit a wall and fell to the ground after she was struck. Monahan drove east on the sidewalk for about 100 feet and crashed into a planter.

Shelton was pronounced dead at 11:21 a.m. at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, police said.

Piedrahita, who went to the hospital with Shelton, said doctors told him Shelton lost consciousness when she was hit and never regained it.

Claremont police Lt. Dennis Smith said an investigation into the crash won’t be complete for two or three weeks.

Smith said he doesn’t know whether the department will forward its findings to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal prosecution.

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By this afternoon, several bouquets of flowers and candles had been left in the area where Shelton was hit.

A hand-written message taped to the front door of Monahan’s business said, “Our prayers are with you both and your families.”

Piedrahita called Shelton the “princess” of Claremont. She had lived in the city for about 14 years, and her son graduated in 2009 from Claremont High School.

She helped establish a group of friends and professional colleagues known informally as the “Thursday night crew” that made weekly social outings in the Village, Piedrahita said.

“That built a lot of good friendships and relationships she was responsible for,” he said.

Shelton lived in Seward and Monahan’s Claremont home the past four months, Seward said.

“She was like a sister to us,” he said. “We just can’t believe it happened.”

Monahan was sedated today and “not in a condition to say anything” to a reporter, Seward said.

On Monahan’s Facebook page, dozens of friends left supportive messages.

“I want you to know the Lord is by your side at this moment,” Susan Brunasso said. “You are so loved and are in the prayers of so many including mine.”

Retrial under way in teacher’s molestation case

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The retrial for a former elementary school teacher accused of molesting several students began this morning, with prospective jurors summoned to West Valley Superior Court.

James Andrew Megaw, 43, faces four felonies for allegedly committing lewd or lascivious acts on four children in his class at Valencia Elementary School in Upland.

His first trial ended in a mistrial in May when a jury deadlocked in its deliberations.

Eighty prospective jurors filled out questionnaires today in Judge Michael A. Sachs’ courtroom.

Sachs said that attorneys will spend the rest of the week reviewing the responses, and prospective jurors will return to court next Monday morning to continue jury selection.

Sachs estimated the trial will last 20 days.

At Megaw’s first trial, five former students — both boys and girls — testified that Megaw sexually abused them during class.

A sixth student said Megaw, of Rancho Cucamonga, made a lewd comment to him in a school bathroom.

Two of the students’ allegations are uncharged by prosecutors because nearly a decade has passed since the incidents and the statute of limitations is expired.

The jury in Megaw’s first trial deadlocked 8-4 in favor of guilt on one count. For the remaining three counts, jurors favored acquittal by tallies of 10-2 (two counts) and 9-3.

A previous report that jurors favored acquittal on all counts was incorrect.

Vehicular manslaughter charges filed in limo driver’s death

FONTANA — Prosecutors filed gross vehicular manslaughter charges this week against a man accused in a 2008 drunken driving crash on the 15 Freeway.

Marc Anthony Saavedra, 30, is accused of crashing his pickup truck on April 29, 2008 into a limousine that was parked on the shoulder of the freeway near the Sierra Avenue offramp in Fontana, according to a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

The limo driver, Frantz Jones of Compton, was hospitalized in critical condition after the crash, Officer Jeff Briggs said.

Saavedra was convicted in March of two felonies — hit and run and DUI causing injury — and sentenced to a year in jail.

Between then and Wednesday, when prosecutors filed manslaughter charges, Jones succumbed to injuries he suffered in the crash, according to the felony complaint filed by prosecutors.

Briggs said today that he didn’t know when Jones died, and the prosecutor who filed the case, Deputy District Attorney Norma Alejo, could not be reached for comment.

Saavedra was arrested Thursday and held without bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, according to booking records.

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Jones’ limo was parked on the shoulder of the freeway because the vehicle had mechanical problems, Briggs said.

Jones and a passenger were standing beside the limo when it was sideswiped. The passenger, Mary Lucas of Ontario, was injured in the collision, Briggs said.

Mistrial declared after jury deadlocks in teacher’s attempted murder trial

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FONTANA — A judge declared a mistrial this afternoon in the trial of a former Garey High School teacher accused of sneaking into his estranged wife’s home and trying to strangle her.

The mistrial in Augustine Anene’s case came after jurors said they were deadlocked in their deliberations.

The jury convicted Anene of only one of the five counts filed by prosecutors. The guilty verdict was for the least serious charge — a misdemeanor for violating a restraining order obtained by Anene’s wife.

Prosecutors will now have the option of retrying Anene on the four remaining counts, which are all felonies. The charges include attempted murder, burglary, false imprisonment and assault.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do at this time,” said Deputy District Attorney Tonya Cole. “Obviously we’ll try to resolve it if we can.”

Prosecutors accused Anene, 54, of hiding in his wife’s bedroom closet on March 29 in his family’s Fontana home, and emerging to attack her after she fell asleep.

Anene moved out of the home in January after his wife of 19 years obtained a restraining order requiring him to stay away from her.

The alleged attack was interrupted by the couple’s 18-year-old son, who kicked open his mother’s locked bedroom door and restrained his father.

Anene, who testified during the trial, claimed he snuck into the house because he felt it was the best way to gain access to his wife.

But he wanted only to talk to her to try to repair their marriage, not attack her, according to his attorney, Gina Kershaw.

Kershaw said she and Anene were disappointed by the result because they had hoped for an acquittal.

“I thought we had a really good case,” she said.

Seven out of 12 jurors favored acquittal on the attempted murder charge. For the other three felonies, the jury favored guilt. On two of the counts the tally was 8-4, and on the other it was 9-3.

“I believe we’ve done what we can,” the jury forewoman told Judge Cara D. Hutson.

Kershaw said she didn’t think Anene was willing to take a plea bargain. She said Anene wasn’t interested before his trial in a plea bargain, instead deciding on “putting his faith in the jury.”

Anene is due back in Fontana Superior Court on Sept. 17 for a pre-trial hearing. A tentative trial date was set for Sept. 27.

Anene was employed by the Pomona Unified School District for 18 years. At the time of his arrest he worked as a computer instructor at Garey High School. He resigned his position after his arrest.

Ayala basketball booster says he’s innocent of embezzlement

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CHINO — An Ayala High School basketball booster accused of embezzlement said in an interview Wednesday that he’s innocent of criminal charges.

Donald Williamson said that during his two-month stint last year as president of the booster club for the Chino Hills school’s girls basketball program, he withdrew money from the club’s bank account to reimburse himself for expenses incurred as president.

He claims he had no “criminal intent,” and didn’t know he was violating club rules or the law.

“Whatever I was doing, I was doing for the program,” said Williamson, 49. “I was hustling for the girls.”

Williamson’s comments came after an arraignment in Chino Superior Court, in which he pleaded not guilty to two felonies filed last month by prosecutors.

He faces charges of embezzlement and grand theft. Both charges allege he took more than $400.

Judge Gerard S. Brown appointed the San Bernardino County Public Defender’s Office to represent him after Williamson told the judge his monthly income was $221.

Williamson, of Los Angeles, is next due in court Tuesday for a pre-preliminary hearing.

“I’m not confessing now,” he said after the hearing. “I don’t feel I did anything wrong.”

Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell, the prosecutor assigned to Williamson’s case, declined to respond to his comments.

“We’ll just let the facts of the case come out at the preliminary hearing, if it gets that far,” Mitchell said.

In an extensive interview, Williamson described himself as a “great father” who works hard to help his daughters’ sports programs.

He acknowledged that he’s served numerous prison terms, but he said he was honest with the basketball program about his past and no longer commits crimes.

“I truly regret it turned out this way,” he said.

Williamson said he first became involved in the booster club at Ayala in fall 2008, during his daughter’s freshman year at the school.

He said he’s a professional chef who owns a mobile barbecue business, and he used his cooking skills to boost annual revenue at the team’s snack bar from $800 to $3,800.

Because of his success running the snack bar, he said other boosters encouraged him to become more involved in the club. The following season, he said he ran unopposed to become the club’s president.

After his election, he said the past president had debit cards made for him and the club’s new treasurer allowing them to access the club’s bank account. He said reimbursement rules were never explained to him.

During his time as president — from October to December — Williamson said he worked for the club six days a week for six to eight hours a day. He said he received no compensation.

Midway through his tenure, he moved to Inglewood. After his move, he said he drove frequently between Chino Hills and Inglewood.

He said that in addition to running the snack bar, he solicited donations and sponsorships for the program. He said the club’s bank account ballooned to nearly $9,000 while he was president.

Williamson said he withdrew money from the account to cover his gas expenses. He recalled making three withdrawals: for $300, $200 and $40.

“I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong,” Williamson said. “You gave me this position and didn’t explain the position fully.”

Williamson said he resigned the position in December after the club’s board members questioned the way he handled the club’s finances.

In arguing his innocence, Williamson noted that after the alleged embezzlement, there was several thousand dollars left in the account.

“If I steal something, I’m gonna go all out,” he said.

He said he isn’t open to a plea bargain, and he wants to take his case to trial.

“I just want to show the jury and the court that there’s no criminal intent,” he said.

Williamson’s 15-year-old daughter now attends Summit High School in Fontana. She is 6-foot-3 and is has received recruitment letters from more than 40 Division I college basketball programs, Williamson said.

For reluctant witnesses, prosecutors have several methods to secure testimony

This story is part of a three-story package about Roberta Romero’s killing that ran on Aug. 15. The main story on Romero’s killing can be read here. A sidebar on Ralph Flores’ murder case can be read here.

About a week before a preliminary hearing in May for Roberta Romero’s accused killers, a prosecutor and Pomona police detectives met with their key witness in a conference room at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The witness, a relative of Romero’s, was with the woman when she was shot and killed last year – reportedly because she testified against a high-ranking Azusa 13 gang member.

When the witness was served with a subpoena at the meeting and asked if she’d come to court, she shook her head and said she wouldn’t appear, according to a court declaration written by Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan.

“I asked (the witness) two more times if she would honor the subpoena, and every time she responded in the negative,” Phan wrote.

“As (the witness) left the conference room of the District Attorney’s Office, I followed her out to the elevators and stated to her that I’ll see her on Monday. (The witness) ignored me and entered the elevator without responding.”

The witness’s reluctance to come to court underscores the fear many witnesses have to testify in gang cases.

“Gangs operate by intimidation,” Phan said in an interview. “And one of the things they do is they intimidate regular citizens in the community not to come forward and testify against them, so that they have free range within the community to do whatever they feel like doing.”

Prosecutors have several methods to try to overcome witnesses’ reluctance to speak to police and later testify in court, Phan said.

One of the methods was used to secure testimony from Romero’s relative.

Prosecutors requested and obtained from a judge an arrest warrant for the witness – not because the witness was suspected in a crime, but because prosecutors needed her testimony.

“A lot of times what we have to do to get the body to court is ask the court to issue a bench warrant so that we can go out, and that allows the police to go out and arrest the person and bring the person into court,” Phan said.

The witness was in custody when she testified a week after the meeting.

Another tool available to police and prosecutors in securing testimony is relocating witnesses to new areas if they feel threatened in their communities.

And if a witness recants previous statements when they testify, prosecutors can impeach their testimony by asking them questions containing specific information they told investigators, Phan said.

When witnesses are entered into protection, they are relocated to an apartment outside their former neighborhood and are told not to go back to the area where they might be threatened, Phan said.

“It’s not like you see in the movies where you buy them a house or something like that,” Phan said. “No, nothing like that. It’s basically first and last month’s rent, plus food for a couple months and utilities for a couple months.”

Even when witnesses come to court to testify, because they feel intimidated in gang cases they often claim they can’t remember speaking to police, Phan said.

“When they come down to the police station, nobody knows they’re talking to the police,” Phan said. “And then all of a sudden they get a subpoena, they come to court and they say, ‘Oh my God, I gotta come to court now and testify?’

“And a lot of them will come to court and say, ‘Oh no, I never told the police that,’ or, ‘I don’t remember saying that.’ And they recant.

“And that’s why we have a lot of, in gang cases especially, we have witnesses who will not come to court and tell us what they told the police.

“So we have to essentially, what we do in court is impeach them with the prior statements that they made to the police.”