Murder suspect who represents himself granted access to police reports

POMONA — An alleged gang member acting as his own attorney in a murder case will have access to police reports and other legal documents in his case, a judge ruled today.

Prosecutors had previously sought to withhold such documents from Rodney Coronel Perez because they feared witnesses might be harmed if the documents, called “discovery” in legal parlance, were obtained by the accused killer.

Perez, 30, of Asuza, is accused in the execution-style shooting death of Roberta Romero, who was killed May 11, 2009 in Pomona.

Prosecutors believe Romero, 24, was targeted because she testified against a high-ranking member of the Azusa 13 street gang who was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death.

When Perez’s request to act his own attorney was granted Nov. 19, Deputy District Attorney Ian Phan asked that discovery documents be kept from Perez and instead given to a defense private investigator.

But on Tuesday in Pomona Superior Court, Phan seemed to soften his stance, noting that the California Penal Code allows access to such documents for defendants who represent themselves.

Before giving police reports and other documents to Perez, Phan told Judge Tia Fisher that he will redact addresses and other contact information for witnesses in the case and for Romero’s family members.

Asked if he feared witnesses might be harmed as a result of Perez obtaining the documents, which number more than 2,000, Phan said, “There’s always that potential.”

“That’s why the information is redacted,” he added.

A Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office committee is set to meet Wednesday to debate whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty against Perez and his co-defendant, Ramiro Juan Alvarez, Phan said.

Alvarez, 24, of Azusa, is accused of aiding and abetting Perez in Romero’s killing.

According to court testimony from a woman who witnessed Romero’s killing, Perez and Alvarez targeted Romero because she testified against Ralph “Swifty” Flores.

Flores was an enforcer for Azusa 13 who was convicted in 2008 of murdering four people between 1999 and 2004.

According to a transcript of testimony in his preliminary hearing, Flores shot and killed 16-year-old boy in Azusa who he’d never met because the boy was black.

Flores’ other victims included a member of a rival street gang, a woman he wrongly suspected of providing information about his gang to police, as well as a gang associate who refused to transfer ownership of her car, which the gang wanted to sell to raise money for a defense attorney for one of its members.

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Doughnut shop owner sentenced for ivory smuggling

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

LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Claremont doughnut shop was placed on probation and fined nearly $4,000 on Monday for smuggling ivory from endangered African elephants.

Moun Chau, who owns Pixie Donuts on Base Line Road and lives in Montclair, pleaded guilty in April to charges that he purchased elephant tusks from a man in Thailand.

According to a summary of Chau’s case contained in his plea agreement, Chau made four separate ivory purchases on eBay in September and October 2006. He spent about $2,500 on the purchases.

At Chau’s sentencing in Los Angeles federal court, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder said she believes Chau is very unlikely to reoffend.

“The court believes the sentence is sufficient, but not overly harsh,” Snyder said.

Chau was placed on probation for two years, fined $3,800 and ordered to pay a $100 court fee. The first $2,000 of his fine was due immediately, with the balance to be paid in $100 monthly increments.

Chau faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and up to $250,000 in fines.

Chau declined to speak during his sentencing. He and his attorney also declined to comment after the hearing.

In Chau’s indictment, prosecutors accused the seller, Samart Chokchoyma, of declaring in customs forms that a package of ivory sent to Chau was a “gift” containing “toys.”

After receiving the elephant tusks, Chau carved the items in the back of his doughnut shop, according to investigators.

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Man convicted in gang shooting sentenced to 19 years

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RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A man accused of shooting two people at a party in Montclair pleaded guilty on Monday to attempted murder and another felony as part of a plea bargain that carries a 19-year prison sentence.

Victor Salvador Talamantez, 35, was arrested March 28 for allegedly opening fire the previous night outside a party in the 4600 block of San Jose Street where he and a group of people were denied entry.

One of the bullets fired by Talamantez struck a 17-year-old girl in the chest, passed through her body, and struck the girl’s 21-year-old brother-in-law in the shoulder, police said at the time of the incident.

Talamantez entered his pleas in West Valley Superior Court as part of a plea bargain in which prosecutors agreed to dismiss three felonies against Talamantez.

Judge Mary E. Fuller then sentenced Talamantez, an alleged gang member, to 19 years in state prison.

The night of the shooting, Talamantez and a group of people walked past a party thrown by people they didn’t know and tried to enter the home.

They were told they couldn’t come inside, and an argument between the two groups ensued, police said.

When people from each group claimed membership in a gang, Talamantez opened fire, according to police.

Talamantez was arrested the morning after the shooting at Philadelphia Street and Pipeline Avenue in Chino.

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Upland man takes plea bargain in threats to grandparents

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An Upland man accused of holding a knife to his grandfather’s neck has pleaded no contest to a felony assault charge as part of a plea bargain that carries probation and a possible four-year prison sentence.

Jack Clifford Eckman, 22, was originally charged with five felonies and a misdemeanor for allegedly harassing his grandparents. The alleged harassment peaked June 30 when his alleged threat against his grandfather.

Eckman was in custody Monday when he entered his plea in West Valley Superior Court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

The agreement calls for Eckman to be placed on probation for three years. If he violates his probation, he could be sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors agreed to dismiss all but one felony charge against Eckman.

Judge Donald G. Umhoffer allowed Eckman to be released from custody at the end of the hearing in exchange for a promise that he appear in court Dec. 22 for his sentencing.

Eckman was arrested for a June 30 incident at his grandparents’ home in the 300 block of South Greentree Road in Upland, where he used to live.

During his visit he demanded belongings he claimed he had left there. When his grandparents disputed his claim that he had left belongings there, an argument escalated until Eckman allegedly took out a knife.

According to a police report contained in his court file, Eckman held the knife over his head and walked within two three feet of his grandmother.

“I should kill you,” he said, according to the report.

He later held the knife to his grandfather’s throat and threatened to kill him, according to the report.

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Cooley concedes California attorney general race

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–Republican Steve Cooley conceded the California attorney general’s race to Democrat Kamala Harris on Wednesday, giving Democrats a sweep of all statewide offices and ushering in the first woman and first minority elected to the post.

With only 150,000 votes remaining to be counted three weeks after Election Day, there aren’t enough outstanding votes for Cooley to overtake Harris, said Cooley’s political consultant, Kevin Spillane.

Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, is up by 51,000 votes, a half-percentage point margin, in the closely fought north-south battle between the prosecutors from California’s two most prominent cities. Cooley is Los Angeles County district attorney.

Spillane said Cooley called Harris on Wednesday morning to congratulate her.

In a statement issued by her campaign, Harris said she would wait to make a victory declaration until a news conference next week, after counties complete their final vote counts.

“Harris thanks district attorney Cooley for a spirited campaign and looks forward to working together on the critical public safety challenges facing California,” she said.

Harris, 46, replaces Democrat Jerry Brown, who gave up the office in his successful bid for governor.

The rising Democratic star, the daughter of a black father and a mother from India, won backing from President Barack Obama and was named one of the nation’s most inspiring women by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. She counts Barbra Streisand, DreamWorks co-founders David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, and actress Reese Witherspoon among campaign contributors.

The race also drew national attention because of California’s size and its ability to influence national policy. During his tenure, Brown sued the federal government over former President George W. Bush’s refusal to accept state laws on auto emission standards. Obama moved to set national standards this year, partly as a result.

Harris ran as a reformer who began alternative tough-love programs in San Francisco for drug offenders and parents whose children miss too much school. Prosecutors and lawmakers should attack the underlying social problems that lead to crime as well as the criminal, she said.

She said her priority as attorney general will be fixing California’s revolving-door prison system. The state needs to be smarter on crime in an era of budget cutbacks and crowded prisons and jails, she said during the campaign.

She also made environmental protection a keystone of her campaign, drawing a contrast with Cooley’s reluctance to oppose a November ballot initiative that would have delayed implementing California’s landmark 2006 global warming law. The measure failed.

Harris’ win was hailed by gay rights supporters. Harris, like Brown and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said she would not defend Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure outlawing gay marriages. The law was recently overturned by a federal judge, and Harris said she won’t push to reinstate what she believes is an unconstitutional violation of civil rights.

She prevailed despite negative publicity from two San Francisco controversies.

The attorney general’s office took over the investigation of tainted evidence blamed on an employee in the San Francisco police crime lab. She also had to make changes in her office after admitting her prosecutors failed to research and disclose police officers’ criminal or disciplinary histories to defense attorneys.

Both revelations forced the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases and jeopardized thousands more.

In a statement issued by his campaign, Cooley, 63, noted that he won more votes than any other Republican running for statewide office in California, and blamed the state’s blue Election Day landslide for his inability to win. Spillane blamed a poor showing by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Cooley’s inability to raise enough money for statewide television ads.

“It is unfortunate that someone who is a non-partisan non-politician could not overcome the increasingly partisan tendencies of the state, even for an office that by its nature necessitates a non-partisan approach,” Cooley said in his statement.

Harris won despite Cooley’s attempt to portray himself as tougher on crime. He was backed by law enforcement groups and national corporations that capitalized on Harris’ personal opposition to imposing the death penalty, notably her refusal to seek the death penalty for the killer of an undercover San Francisco police officer in 2004.

Like Brown, Harris promised to put her own views aside and enforce the state’s capital punishment law as attorney general.

Cooley has built a national reputation by prosecuting high-profile cases, including those involving fugitive film director Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson’s doctor. He said in his statement that he plans to serve out the remaining two years of his term as district attorney, finishing his career in the office where he began 37 years ago.

Spillane, however, said Cooley hadn’t ruled out a bid for a fourth term as district attorney nor a future run for statewide office.

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