Man convicted of 1981 rape, killing of Whittier woman

Joseph Allen Thornton

WHITTIER >> A man arrested more than 30 years after the 1981 rape and killing of a woman inside her Whittier home pleaded “no contest” to four felony charges Tuesday, on what would have been his victim’s 55th birthday, authorities said.
Joseph Allen Thornton, 53, immediately received a sentence of 24 years to life in state prison after entering his pleas in Norwalk Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Initially charged with murder, Thornton pleaded “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter, rape, sodomy by force and digital penetration by force, district attorney’s officials said.
For more than 30 years, Thornton had gotten away with the June 27, 1981, slaying of 21-year-old Blanca Negrete in her home in the 7900 block of Washington Avenue.
“At the time of the slaying, detectives had exhausted all leads and the case eventually went cold,” Ardalani said in a written statement.
Blanca Stella NegreteBut Whittier Police Department investigators reopened the cold case in 2010, and identified Thornton as a suspect in the crime in January of 2011 via previously unusable DNA evidence, police officials said at the time.
DNA evidence had been collected by investigators after the slaying occurred, however the technology of the time did not allow investigators to match it to a suspect, police said in a written statement. Thornton’s DNA had been entered into a law enforcement database as the result of a domestic violence conviction, Whittier police Lt. Kent Miller said at the time.
Once identified as a suspect, police turned their attention to locating and capturing Thornton, Miller said.
The trail led them as far away as Topeka, Kansas, where Thornton had stayed for many years after the killing, he said. Detectives ultimately tracked him down and arrested him in April, 2012, at his home in Auburn.
Negrete worked at what eventually became PIH Health Hospital at the time of her slaying, police said. What, if any, relationship that existed between her and her killer was unclear.
The conviction occurred on what would have been Negrete’s 55th birthday, Whittier police Officer John Scoggins said.
In addition to his prison sentence, Norwalk Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez ordered Thornton to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Ardalani said.

PHOTOS of convicted killer and rapist Joseph Thornton (above) and his victim, Blanca Negrete (below) courtesy of the Whittier Police Department.

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Chino Hills man fatally shot in Whittier identified

WHITTIER >> Coroner’s officials have released the name of a 26-year-old Chino Hills man killed in a shooting at Broadway Park Whittier last week.
Jesus David Molina, 26, died at a hospital shortly after he was shot about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday at Broadway Park, 12816 Broadway, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Kristy McCracken said.
Two male attackers approached Molina as he was sitting in the park, according to Whittier police Officer John Scroggins.
After a brief exchange of words, one of the two attackers shot Molina and fled, he said. Officers responding to reports of a shooting found Molina suffering from gunshot wounds to his chest.
No further details were available.

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Woman guilty of murder in husband’s 2007 shooting death in South Whittier

SOUTH WHITTIER >> Nearly seven years after a woman claimed she accidentally shot her husband to death at their Whittier home, a jury convicted her of murder Friday following her second trial.
The Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated for less than two days before finding Linda Gwozdz, 57, guilty of second-degree murder for the April 26, 2007, slaying of then-husband Patrick Duffey, 50, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Robert Villa said. The jury also found true the special allegation that she personally discharged a firearm during the crime, resulting in death.
Duffey was shot twice in the head, officials said.
Even following conviction, however, some key questions remain unanswered.
“She never expressed what the motive was,” Villa said. “She said he was her best friend.”
Duffey’s life was insured for $300,000, but through a judge’s ruling, the money went to the couple’s two sons, even though Gwodz was listed as the primary beneficiary, the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi reported. A death certificate provided to the insurance company listed Duffey’s cause of death as homicide due to multiple gunshots wounds.
Gwozdz faces up to 40 years to life in prison when she returns to court for sentencing March 9, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
A previous murder trial ended in a mistrial January after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Villa said.
The fatal shooting took place about 2:50 p.m. at the couple’s home in the 15800 block of Sharon Hill Drive, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, officials said. The couple’s two children were at school at the time.
Gwozdz herself called 9-1-1 to report the shooting.
“In the 9-1-1 call, she says he was teacher her how to shoot a gun, and the gun accidentally went off,” Villa said.
“But the evidence doesn’t really support that that’s what happened,” the prosecutor said. “It looked like he was sleeping on the couch.”
Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau interviewed Gwozdz the day of the shooting, and several times after in the years that followed, Villa said. In the meantime, she moved to Mississippi and re-married.
There was no documented history of domestic violence between Gwozdz and Duffey, Villa said.
Gwozdz story changed each time she was interviewed, Villa said. She first stated her husband was lying on the couch when the gun went off. She later said he had been sitting on the couch and lied down just as she aimed the .38-caliber revolver at the couch and inadvertently fired.
After several years of persistent investigation, detectives presented their findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, resulting in the filing of a murder case in May of 2012.
Authorities extradited Gwozdz back to Los Angeles County from Mississippi shortly after the case was filed, Ardalani said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested her June 7, 2012, according to county booking records. She was held in lieu of $2 million bail prior to her conviction.
— Staff Writer Stephanie Baer contributed to this report.
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Man fatally shot in Hacienda Heights

HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> Homicide detectives are investigating the death of a man found fatally shot in a Hacienda Heights backyard Sunday afternoon, authorities said.
A neighbor called deputies about 1:45 p.m. to report seeing someone lying in the large backyard of a home in the 14400 block of Clark Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Rick Thurlo said.
The man appeared to have been shot, officials said. Paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene.
No further description of the dead man was available late Sunday, nor were any further details regarding the shooting.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Investigation continues into slaying of La Verne couple inside their home

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LA VERNE >> Investigators continued trying to make sense Saturday of the fatal stabbing and beating of an elderly couple in their home near here.
No suspect was in custody in connection with the deaths of Armie “Troy” Isom, 89, and his wife, Shirley Isom, 74, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. The Isoms were both found mortally wounded shortly after 1 p.m. Friday near the entrance of their home in the 300 block of Roughrider Road in an unincorporated area.
Sheriff’s officials identified the man as Armie Isom. Neighbors, who said the couple had lived in their home about two decades, knew the husband as Troy.
Paramedics pronounced Shirley Isom dead at the scene. Her husband was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he ultimately succumbed to his wounds.
Detectives and crime scene investigators returned to the scene Saturday to continue collecting and cataloguing evidence.
No suspect had been identified, and the motive in the double-killing remained unknown.
“This is a mystery. This is going to take a lot of detective work,” said Lt. Dave Coleman of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
Shirley Isom appeared to have suffered both stab wounds and blunt force injuries, the lieutenant said.
Troy Isom had been beaten, but it remained unclear whether he had also been stabbed, Coleman said.
1228_NWS_SGT-L-LVFOLO2The knife used in the stabbing had not been recovered, he said. Coleman declined to discuss what sort of blunt object was involved in the attack.
Detectives ruled out the possibility of a murder-suicide. Coleman said both the man and woman were homicide victims.
And Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said a “security hold” placed on the case by sheriff’s investigators prevented his agency from discussing it.
Coleman said detectives were yet to discover any valuables missing from the home.
It was unclear how the killer got into the home, he said. “There’s no obvious point of entry.”
The couple are survived by five children, Coleman said.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of the one of the victim’s daughters said the family was also awaiting further information about what happened to the Isoms as they deal with their sudden and tragic loss.
“There’s no words,” the woman said. She did not wish to comment further.
Deputies who first responded to the crime scene scoured the area for a suspicious man with a backpack that several witnesses said they saw at or near the Isoms’ property just before the attack was discovered.
Neighbors described the man as between 25 and 30 years old, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 11 inches tall, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a backpack.
Coleman said the description did not match anyone who was supposed to be on the property Friday and detectives are seeking him for an interview.
“We’re trying to identify all of the workers who should have been there,” Coleman said.
But the lieutenant did not label the person seen by neighbors as a suspect in the killing, though he said the man’s potential involvement had not been ruled out.
Investigators planned to return to the crime scene Sunday to finish their search of the property, Coleman said. Detectives planned to use search dogs and searchers mounted on horseback to ensure a thorough examination of the massive, brush-laden property on a private road at the end of Roughrider Road.
Once work is completed with the plentiful physical evidence at the scene — which included a ”tremendous amount of blood,” Coleman said the investigation will shift to a broader focus as detectives look over the couple’s business dealings and personal lives for possible clues.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

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Man accused of killing mother, dumping body in La Habra

SANTA ANA >> Prosecutors Friday filed a murder charge Friday against a Santa Maria man with killing his mother and dumping her body in some bushes behind a La Habra carport earlier this year.
Following five months of investigation, La Habra police detectives arrested Gabriel Anthony Espinoza, 30, of Santa Maria Tuesday in connection with the slaying of his mother, La Habra police Sgt. Jose Quirarte said in a written statement.
After making an initial appearance Friday in Orange County Superior Court, Espinoza was being held without bail pending his next scheduled hearing on Feb. 6, according to Orange County booking records.
A man walking his dog first found the body of 58-year-old clinical social worker Emma Posadas Espinoza of Lompoc about 4:30 a.m. on July 21 in the 900 block of South Idaho Street in La Habra.
“He indicated that he had been walking his dog, off leash, behind the carport area, when his dog alerted on something,” Quirarte said. “He went to investigate and discovered the body. He immediately called the police.”
“The body had been covered with foliage and only the feet and a limited portion of the body appeared to be uncovered. The body was later identified as being Emma Posadas Espinoza.”
But the death remained shrouded in mystery for months. There were no obvious signs of trauma on the body when discovered, officials said. Initial autopsy results were not conclusive.
Autopsy results provided by the Orange County coroner investigators Dec. 17 revealed that Posadas-Espinoza died of asphyxiation, police said. Further details regarding exactly how she died were not available Saturday.
“Based on information gathered in the investigation, which included search warrants and court orders, the La Habra Police Department was able to identify a suspect responsible for the homicide,” Quirarte said.
Aided by Santa Maria police, La Habra officers arrested Espinoza at his Santa Maria home.
Prosecutors have filed a murder charge against the suspect, and also allege the murder involved special circumstances, making Espinoza potentially eligible for the death penalty if convicted. The alleged special circumstance is reportedly murder for financial gain, however officials could not confirm that information over the weekend.
Espinoza called Lompoc police the day his mother’s body was found and told them he hadn’t heard from her, but she was not formally reported missing, Lompoc police Sgt. Chuck Strange said at the time.
Espinoza declined to comment when contacted by this newspaper in July.

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Elderly couple found slain inside home near La Verne


LA VERNE >> A woman and her husband died following an attack inside their home Friday afternoon, authorities said.
The attack occurred in the 300 block of Roughrider Road in an unincorporated county area near La Verne.
Neighbor Don Mineer identified the couple as Shirley and Troy Isom.
The woman, 74, was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, according to Lt. Dave Coleman of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. Her husband, 89, was found wounded and later succumbed to his injuries.
Though neighbors knew the man as Troy, sheriff’s officials identified hime as Arnie Isom.
Early reports indicated the couple had been stabbed but Coleman declined to discuss the injuries, which were also described by officials as “blunt force trauma.”
A “grounds keeper” called the sheriff’s San Dimas Sheriff’s station after finding the married couple unresponsive inside the home, Coleman said.
Firefighters responded to a rescue call at 1:16 p.m. involving two critically injured patients, according to county fire Capt. Keith Mora.
“We are very early in the investigation,” said Coleman. “It’s an expansive scene.”
The couple were found near the entryway of the home, Coleman said.
Jose Tamayo, a gardener who was working nearby, reported seeing a man exit the property minutes before the incident was discovered.
Tamayo said the man was wearing a green jacket with a hood, a baseball cap and jeans. He said the man picked up a backpack from nearby bushes, put it on and walked away.
Mineer said he saw a similar man walking down the road as he was driving home.
“He wasn’t hurrying, but he wasn’t wasting a lot of time,” Mineer said. “Now that I think about it, he looked like he was trying to be inconspicuous.”
Lorrie Guzzy, who lives on a nearby street, said she saw a man walking up Live Oak Canyon Road toward Roughrider Road between noon and 12:30 p.m. and thought he was suspicious.
“He didn’t look like a hiker,” Guzzy said. “He looked homeless.”
She said another neighbor also saw the man.
“It just didn’t look right. I wish both of us had called (police),” Guzzy said.
The Isoms lived at the home on a private road at the end of Roughrider Road, Mineer said.
“He’s a good guy and a good friend,” Mineer said, adding that Troy was a contractor.
He thinks the couple lived there for about 20 years.
“(Troy) told my wife he had a shotgun loaded by the door. I think I’ll load mine too,” Mineer said.
Deputies initially responding to the incident sought a man seen leaving the area between age 25 and 30, and between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall. He reportedly wore an orange or blue hooded sweatshirt and carried a green or red backpack. Several people matching the description were detained and questioned in the area, but none were linked to the crime.
But homicide investigators would not confirm the description and did not label the suspicious man reported by neighbors as a suspect int he killing.

"no resales"

PHOTO by Jeo Jarzomb

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Pico Rivera man killed in shooting identified

PICO RIVERA >> Coroner’s officials Sunday identified a Pico Rivera man found fatally shot beside a bicycle on a Rosemead Boulevard sidewalk early Saturday.
Matthew Albert Garcia, 26, died following the shooting, which was reported just before 6 a.m. Saturday in front of an apartment complex in the 5400 block of Rosemead Boulevard, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Dana Bee said.
A passer-by found him lying on a sidewalk with gunshot wounds, Sgt. Troy Ewing of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
No suspect description was known, officials said. The shooting was believed to be gang-related.

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West Covina teen killed in West Valinda shooting identified

WEST VALINDA >> Coroner officials Saturday identified a 17-year-old West Covina boy who was shot to death in West Valinda Friday.
Erik Sainz died in the 11:40 p.m. shooting at Amar Road and Millbury Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
He was standing with acquaintances in the driveway of a home when two attackers approached on foot, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
One of the assailants pulled a handgun and opened fire, striking Sainz several times in the “upper torso,” Deputy Ruan Rouzan said in a written statement.
The killers fled the area in a blue or green vehicle, officials added. No further suspect description was available.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

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UPDATED: Man fatally shot on Pico Rivera sidewalk

 

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PICO RIVERA >> Investigators sought witnesses Saturday in the slaying of a man who was found fatally shot beside a bicycle on a Rosemead Boulevard sidewalk.
The shooting took place shortly before 6 a.m. in front of the Paradise Island apartment complex, 5430 Rosemead Blvd., according to Deputy Guillermina Saldana of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
Sgt. Troy Ewing of Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau described the victim as a Latino man who appeared to be in his mid-20s.
1221_NWS_WDN-L-PICO-SHOOTING2The dead man’s identity was not available pending positive identification and notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
A passer-by found the victim lying wounded on a sidewalk in front of the apartment complex, Ewing said.
“Pico Rivera (deputies) received a call of a gunshot victim,” Ewing said.
Nearby residents heard gunshots, but none reported seeing the shooting, he said.
“There’s no suspect info, no witnesses at this time,” the sergeant said.
A white-frame bicycle with blue wheels and handlebars remained leaned against a fence Saturday morning, next to where the shooting victim was discovered.
Neighbors said they did not recognize the bicycle.
A pair of shoes, clothing and other items scattered around a pool of blood at the shooting scene were labeled with yellow evidence marker cards.
Forensic investigators scoured the scene for clues and took photographs.
Detectives were looking into the possibility the shooting was gang-related.
The shooting was one of two violent incidents reported about the same time within a mile-long stretch of Rosemead Boulevard, officials said.
A 25-year-old man showed up at the emergency room of PIH Health Hospital in Whittier with stab wounds, Lt. Sergio Escobedo of the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station said.
Deputies developed information that the stabbing occurred at or near the Knights Inn, he said, just over a mile to the south of the shooting scene at 6540 Rosemead Boulevard.
Escobedo said the stabbing victim was hospitalized in stable condition Saturday after undergoing surgery. But investigators had not yet had a chance to interview him, and no further information regarding the stabbing was available.
It was unclear if there was any connection between the shooting and stabbing.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

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