LOS ANGELES >> The last of five defendants in a violent 2004 robbery spree in Whittier and the San Gabriel Valley that left two men dead could face the death penalty after a jury convicted him Wednesday of 21 charges, including two counts of murder with special circumstances.
Leonardo Cisneros, 29, of Montebello could face the death penalty for the spree which spanned Los Angeles County cities including Whittier, San Gabriel, El Monte, Alhambra, South Pasadena and San Marino, according to prosecutors and investigators.
“The jury deliberated about two hours today before finding Leonardo Cisneros guilty of all 21 counts, including two counts of first degree murder, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
The other charges include 18 counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery, she said.
The jury also found true the special circumstances of multiple murders, murders during the course of robberies and personal use of a gun in the vast majority of the crimes. The special circumstances make him eligible for the death penalty.
“They come back on Monday to begin the penalty phase, because we are seeking death in this case,” Robison said.
Pasadena City College student Joseph Molina was working at a Whittier Subway sandwich shop on Dec. 10, 2004 when it was robbed. The 22-year-old Whittier resident was fatally shot by Cisneros.
Molina was shot after he failed to remove money from a cash register fast enough for the robbers who had stormed into the restaurant at Beverly and Norwalk boulevards, investigators said.
The other victim slain during the spree was businessman Dianqui Wu, 50, of Rowland Heights, who was fatally shot during an Aug. 4, 2004 robbery in a San Gabriel parking lot.
Cisneros and Jose Resendez, 36, robbed Wu and a friend late at night as they arrived at the friend’s business in the 1800 block of South Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel to use the facility’s Internet, Robison said. Cisneros robbed Wu as Resendez robbed the friend.
“Wu got scared and started running away,” Robison said. “Cisneros chased him about 40 feet, pushed him to the ground and executed him basically, shot him once in the torso.”
Cisneros grabbed Wu’s wallet before fleeing, Robison said.
Wu died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center less than an hour later, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The jury found that Cisneros pulled the trigger in both slayings, court officials said.
Four other defendants in the case took plea deals.
Resendez has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the slaying of Wu; Bernadette Corvera, 32, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery in Molina’s slaying; and Mitzie Ann Oso, 35, has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the killings of Wu and Molina. All three were due to be sentenced June 2.
Resendez and Corvera were expected to receive sentences of 15 years to life in prison, while Oso was expected to receive an eight-year prison term. They could have faced life sentences if convicted at trial, rather than accepting plea bargains.
When entering their pleas in recent years, the three defendants agreed to testify truthfully if called as witnesses in Cisneros’ trial, Robison said.
They were called as witnesses, and all three testified about their involvement in the crimes, as well as Cisneros’, Robison said.
Another defendant, 30-year-old Sara Lopez, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Wu’s slaying and was sentenced to three years of probation.
— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.
FILE PHOTOS: Top: Murder and robbery spree convict Leonardo Cisneros; Below: Slaying victim Joseph Molina, 22, of Whittier.