ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Authorities have identified a 35-year-old stabbing victim whose body was found along the side of a road deep in the forest north of La Canada Flintridge last week.
A hiker discovered the remains of Anthony James Willis shortly before 1 p.m. on March 2 along mile marker 18.97 of Angeles Forest Highway, in the area of Big Tujunga Road, according to Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
An autopsy found he died from “sharp force injuries,” he said. The death was ruled a homicide.
The body was found at the end of a 30-foot-long drainage ditch that channels storm water off of Angeles Forest Highway and into the forest, Lt. Joe Mendoza of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau said. It appeared the killer or killers dumped the body after fatally stabbing the victim at another unknown crime scene.
“It doesn’t appear that the murder occurred there. We think someone just placed the body there,” Mendoza said.
The lieutenant said he was not aware of any gang ties on the part of the victim.
Mendoza said the body did not yet show signs of decomposition and was likely placed in the forest within a day or days of its discovery.
He asked anyone who saw anything suspicious or unusual in the area in the days leading up to the discovery of the body to contact homicide detectives.
No further information was available Wednesday.
Anyone with information can reach 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.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> The death of a man whose body was discovered Thursday afternoon in the forest north of La Canada Flintridge is now being investigated as a homicide, authorities said Friday.
A passer-by first discovered the body about 12:50 p.m., about 30 feet off the side of Angeles Forest Highway, near mile marker 18.87, in the vicinity of Big Tujunga Road, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Sheriff’s officials initially described the victim as elderly. But it was ultimately determined he was a 35-year-old man, Deputy Grace Medrano of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
His identity was withheld Saturday pending notification of his family, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner officials said.“Based on the upper body trauma that was discovered on the victim’s body, this case is being investigated as a homicide,” she said.
No further details were released.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
SAN DIMAS >> A judge sentenced a man to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Friday for hiring a man to kill his wife at the San Dimas home they shared more than 25 years ago after learning she planned to leave him, authorities said.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in Pomona convicted Shanker Chhaganbahi Patel, 57, on Jan. 24 of first-degree murder for the Nov. 19, 1991, death of 29-year-old law student Usha Patel, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement. The jury also found true the special circumstance of lying in wait at the conclusion of a trial that stretched on for two-and-a-half months.
Shanker Patel arranged for another man, 66-year-old Miguel Angel Garcia, to attack Usha Patel as she was on her way to pick up the couple’s 7-year-old daughter from school, Ardalani said.
“The assailant fatally stabbed the victim in the chest and neck, duct taped her mouth and nose and bound her feet,” she said. “(Garcia) then placed the victim’s body in the trunk of her car and drove the vehicle to a nearby middle school, where he abandoned the car.”
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy discovered the car, and subsequently the body, later that day.
The investigation went cold until 2010, when detectives reopened the then-19-year-old murder case and reexamined evidence, “including gloves discovered in the front passenger seat of the victim’s car,” according to Ardalani.
Detectives were able to match DNA from the gloves to Garcia, who was charged with Usha Patel’s murder in 2012 and ultimately pleaded “no contest” to a count of first-degree murder, officials said. He is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.
But the investigation continued, and detectives soon learned that Shanker Patel had paid a “middle man” $7,500 to orchestrate his wife’s murder, Ardalani said.
“The defendant told the co-conspirator when and where to be in the family’s home to kill Usha Patel,” she said. The middle man sub-contracted the murder-for-hire to Garcia. Prosecutors charged him with murder in 2013.
“According to evidence presented at trial, the defendant was having an affair on his wife prior to the killing,” Ardalani said. “Additionally, Usha Patel, a law school student, was planning to leave her husband after she passed the California Bar Exam.”
After identifying Shanker Patel as a suspect in the murder, detectives found and arrested him in Atlanta, officials said.
Though the special circumstance of lying in wait made Shanker Patel eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors did not seek capital punishment in the case, Ardalani said.
DUARTE >> County officials are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer or killers who gunned down a 39-year-old Duarte man in front of his home.
Kirinda Morehead died in the shooting, which took place about 8:20 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the 2300 block of Bashor Street, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials.
He had just parked his car around the corner from his family’s apartment and was preparing to walk home with his wife and two children when shots rang out from a passing vehicle, according to neighbors and sheriff’s officials. His wife and children were not injured by the gunfire.
During Tuesday’s Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, “The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger establishing a $10,0000 reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of a suspect or suspects responsible for the murder of Kirinda Morehead,” Barger’s spokesman, Tony Bell, said in a written statement.
The suspect vehicle was described only as a white BMW with tinted windows. It was last seen heading north on Mount Olive Drive.
No further details in the slaying, including a motive, have been released.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
Community members have already raised more than $22,000 to help Moorehead’s family via an online fund. Donations are being accepted online at www.gofundme.com/courtney-the-babies?lang=en-US.
WHITTIER >> Prosecutors filed capital murder and other charges Wednesday against a gang member and probationer accused of killing one Whittier police officer and wounding another last month after gunning down his cousin in East Los Angeles, authorities said.
Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, of Los Angeles faces two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of carjacking and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in connection with the shootings, which took place on the morning of Feb. 20 in East Los Angeles and in Whittier, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling.
Mejia could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder of Whittier police Officer Keith Boyer, the murder of his cousin, Roy Torres, the wounding of Whittier officer Patrick Hazell, as well as the carjacking of his cousin and the alleged weapons violation, officials said.
“A decision on whether to seek capital punishment will me made at a later date,” Risling said in a written statement.
Mejia, who was shot and wounded himself by police before being apprehended, was scheduled to appear for an arraignment hearing Thursday in the Bellflower branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Risling said. But it was unclear if his medical condition would force the hearing to be postponed.
Mejia has remained hospitalized in a jail ward since the shooting, records show. He was immediately sentenced to a 10-day “flash incarceration” for violating the terms of his probation under the terms of AB 109 pending the filing of charges in connection with the deadly shootings. The 10-day, automatic sentence is set to expire Thursday.
Mejia first shot and killed Torres inside the converted garage he was using as a bedroom at his home in East Los Angeles, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. Mejia then stole his slain cousin’s car and made his way to Whittier.
A little under three hours later, Mejia was involved in a minor traffic collision with two other motorists at Colima Road and Mar Vista Street, investigators said.
“Police responded to the crash and when they ordered Mejia to get out of his car the defendant is accused of pulling out a semi-automatic handgun and firing at two officers,” Risling said. Boyer was killed and Hazell was also wounded. Hazell has since been released from the hospital and is continuing his recovery at home.
Mejia has prior felony convictions for robbery in 2010 and auto theft in 2014, Risling said.
Since being released from custody for the auto theft conviction in April of 2016, Mejia was arrested five times for probation violations, records show. Each time, he received a 9- or 10-day “flash incarceration” before being turned loose again.
The case has prompted outrage from law enforcement and questions from politicians and community members over recent efforts to empty California’s overpopulated prisons, such as AB 109, also knows as the Public Safety Realignment of 2011, and Proposition 47 of 2014, which reduced some felony crimes to misdemeanors.
Memorial services for Boyer are scheduled Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Boyer, who was 53, was a a 27-year veteran of the Whittier Police Department. He is the first Whittier officer killed in the line of duty since 1979.
A public viewing will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Whittier Area Community Church, 8100 Colima Road in Whittier.
The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Calvary Chapel Downey, 12808 Woodruff Ave. in Downey, followed immediately by a procession and graveside ceremony as Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 Workman Mill Road in Whittier.
PICO RIVERA >> A 17-year-old Pico Rivera boy previously charged as an adult in connection with the fatal stabbing of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend is now being tried as a juvenile as a result of the passage of Proposition 57, passed by California owners in November.
Rory Murga is accused of murder for the death of 16-year-old Elena Lillian Moore, who was stabbed to death during the early-morning hours of Aug. 12, 2016, inside her home in the 9800 block of Shade Lane, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. Murga and Moore had dated for about a year and broken up about two weeks prior to the stabbing.
Detectives first labeled Murga a “person of interest” in the slaying. After he was found and taken into custody four days later, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office elected to charge Murga as an adult.
In the month that followed the slaying, California voters approved Proposition 57, which made more convicts deemed “nonviolent” eligible for parole and early release, and also requires that a hearing be held before a juvenile court judge when determining whether a minor will be charged as an adult when accused of a serious crime.
Such a hearing was held Feb. 10, and the case was returned to juvenile court for further proceedings, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
A motions hearing was scheduled in the case in juvenile court on April 27, she said.
But prosecutors plan to again seek that Murga be charged as an adult, according to Ardalani.
Moore’s mother was asleep upstairs when she heard her daughter scream Murga’s during the attack name before making her way upstairs and collapsing in the hallway, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The girl had been stabbed several times.
It appeared Murga entered and exited the home through the back door, though it was unclear whether he forced his way in or was let in.
Investigators found a steak knife believed to be the weapon used in the slaying at the scene, officials said.
Deputies found and arrested Murga on Aug. 16, 2016, after finding him sitting beneath a railroad underpass along Rosemead Boulevard, near Slauson Avenue, Hernandez said.
A motive in the slaying has not been released.
PHOTO of Rory Murga courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. PHOTO of crime scene by Keith Durflinger.
HACIENDA HEIGHTS >> A La Puente man who lived as a fugitive in Mexico for three years before his capture is guilty of murdering his girlfriend in 2011 and dumping her body in Hacienda Heights, a jury found Friday.
A jury at the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court deliberated for less than a day before convicting Francisco Nila Rojas of first-degree murder for the Feb. 18, 2011, slaying of 41-year-old Claudia Tecuautzin of La Puente, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
The jury also found true the special allegation that Rojas personally used a gun. He faces up to 50 year to life in state prison at his sentencing, scheduled Monday, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
After shooting Tecuautzin in the head, he dumped her body down an embankment along Turnbull Canyon, near Skyline Drive, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. A passer-by discovered her remains on March 2, 2011. It took coroner’s investigators several weeks to identify the body, due to the condition in which it was found.
“According to evidence presented at trial, Rojas stole money from Tecuautzin’s bank accounts before and after she was killed,” according to Ardalani.
“Additionally, a Ford Explorer that Rojas and the victim co-owned contained remnants of the victim’s blood. Also, the car’s passenger floor was bleached.”
Further cementing Rojas’ guilt, prosecutors learned that Rojas had purchased a gun on Feb. 12, 2011, less than a week before the slaying took place, Ardalani said. “The same gun was consistent with bullet fragments recovered from the victim’s head, according to expert testimony.”
But by the time the victim and suspect had been identified, the killer had fled the country.
Rojas, a Mexican national, fled to Mexico five days after the killing, according to Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
He was captured in Mexico in 2014, then extradited back to Los Angeles County to face trial in October of 2015.
SAN GABRIEL >> A jury convicted a Pasadena man of murder and other charges on Thursday for fatally shooting his own sister, and attempting to shoot her 13-year-old son, at their San Gabriel home after the sister criticized him for physically abusing his then-girlfriend, officials said.
A jury in Alhambra convicted Johnny Goins, 32, of first-degree murder, attempted murder and two counts of shooting at an inhabited dwelling for the March 5, 2015, attack at the victims’ apartment in the 5100 block of Rosemead Boulevard, in an unincorporated county area just east of San Gabriel, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement. The jury also found true the special allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm during the crime.
Tanaya Goins, 32, died after Goins arrived at her apartment about 6:40 a.m. and opened fire, Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said shortly after the slaying.
Tanaya Goins was shot in the head and torso, officials said. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene. Her 13-year-son, the shooter’s nephew, was wounded in the arm.
Goins carried out the shooting because he was enraged by a text message conversation his sister had with his then-girlfriend.
“According to evidence presented at trial, Johnny Goins’ girlfriend alerted Tanaya Goins that the defendant had tried to suffocate her,” according to Ardalani. “In a series of text messages, the girlfriend also stated that the defendant told her he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because he experienced violence as a child.
“Tanaya Goins told the girlfriend that her brother did not suffer child abuse and that he should not be assaulting women,” Ardalani said.
This prompted Johnny Goins to arm himself with a revolver and head to her apartment, where he fired a volley of shots through the front door and window.
Detectives identified Johnny Goins as the suspect and arrested him in Moreno Valley later the same day.
Ardalani said Goins faces up to 77 years to life in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing on April 6.
PHOTOS: [ABOVE] Johnny Goins in court during an arraignment hearing on March 9, 2015. (By Watchara Phomicinda) [BELOW] Tanaya Goins (Courtesy)
EL MONTE >> Coroner’s officials have released the identity of a 22-year-old man who was fatally stabbed as he walked along Peck Road with his cousin on Sunday.
Alejandro Rojas died at a hospital about an hour after the stabbing, which took place about 11:40 a.m. Sunday outside a liquor store in the 4200 block of Peck Road, Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said. He died four days after his 22nd birthday.
He was walking down the street, accompanied by his cousin, when a car heading north along Peck Road pulled up alongside them, according deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Information Bureau.
An attacker exited the passenger side of the car and confronted the cousins before pulling a knife and stabbing Rojas in the chest, the deputy said.
The killer returned to the vehicle, which sped away, officials said. A detailed description of the attacker and their car was not available. The motive was unclear.
Rojas was taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries.
His cousin was unhurt in the attack, Navarro-Suarez said.
The sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is assisting El Monte police with the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact homicide detectives ar 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
WHITTIER >> The gang member accused of killing a Whittier police officer and another man on Monday, as well as wounding another police officer, remained hospitalized in a intensive care unit Wednesday as detectives continued gathering evidence and the community continued mourning and seeking answers.
Investigators were yet to interview Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, of Los Angeles, as he continued receiving treatment for a gunshot wound to the back sustained in Monday morning’s gunfight with the Whittier, Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau said. His injuries were not considered life-threatening.
The tight-knit Whittier community has rallied around the family of Officer Keith Boyer, a 53-year-old Whittier resident, 28-year lawman, father, grandfather and classic rock drummer.
Officer Patrick Hazell, who was wounded in the abdomen in the shootout, was released from the hospital and continuing his recovery at home, Corina said. His father said the wounded officer did not wish to comment at this time.
Mejia, a documented gang member who was on felony probation, or “Post-Release Community Supervision,” under the terms of AB 109, is also accused of gunning down his cousin about 5:30 a.m. in the 1400 block of Volney Drive in East Los Angeles, less than three hours before the violent encounter with police in Whittier.
Family members said Mejia showed up the Torres home and confronted Torres inside the converted garage the victim used as his bedroom.
The men possibly became involved in an argument prior to the shooting, relatives said. Following the shooting, Mejia allegedly fled in Torres car, which he soon crashed in Whittier.
An autopsy determined Torres died from a single gunshot wound to the head, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. The death was ruled a homicide.
No further details of the East Los Angeles slaying, including a motive, have not been released.Mejia was driving a stolen car when became involved in a minor crash with two other vehicles at Colima Road and Mar Vista Avenue about 8 a.m., Corina said.
Police arrive at the scene after the other drivers had helped Mejia push the car he was driving to the side of the road.
“They asked him to get out of the car. That’s when the shooting occurred,” Corina said.
Mejia suddenly drew a semi-automatic handgun and opened fire, striking both officers.
One of the officer managed to return fire and wound Mejia, who was taken into custody at the scene by fellow officers, officials said.
It was unclear which of the officers wounded the suspect. Corina declined to discuss whether one, or both, of the officers fired their weapons.
Mejia’s gun was recovered at the scene, Corina said.
The involved officers were not wearing body camera, and Corina said he was not aware of any video recordings of the deadly encounter between Mejia and Whittier police.
Mejia was expected to be charged in connection with the case once he’s out of the hospital, the lieutenant said.
Mejia had prior convictions for robbery, and most recently, auto theft, officials said.
He as been re-arrested for probation violations five times since being released from prison for the auto theft conviction, each time resulting in 9- or 10-day “flash incarcerations,” under the terms of AB 109, also known as the “California Public Safety Realignment” of 2011, records show.
Details regarding the circumstances of each arrest were not available, however none resulted in the filing of a new criminal case.
At least one of the arrests was for possession of methamphetamine, Corina said.
Possession of methamphetamine had traditionally been a felony in California, punishable by a year or more in prison, but was reduced to a misdemeanor by Proposition 47, passed by California voters in 2014.
Mejia’s criminal record has raised concerns of law enforcement officers, politicians and others, who are questioning whether Mejia should have been behind bars, rather than out on the street, on Monday.
A documented gang member, and an apparently proud one, Mejia bears the letters “W” and “G” tattooed prominently across his face in capital letters. The same abbreviation, which stands for an East Los Angeles street gang, is also tattooed on Mejia’s neck in lower-case letters.
Services for Boyer have not been announced.
The Whittier Police Department is accepting donations to benefit Boyer’s family. He’s survived by a fiancee, four children and two grandchildren.
Checks can be made out to “WPOA Benevolent Fund,” and reference account No. 488879. Contributions can be dropped off in person at the Whittier Police Department, 13200 Penn Street, in person at the Credit Union of Southern California at 8028 Greenleaf Ave. or mailed to the Credit Union of Southern California, WPOA Benevolent Fund, attention David Valencia, PO Box 200, Whittier, CA 90608.
Any witnesses, or anyone with information, regarding Monday’s incident is encouraged to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
PHOTO of Michael C. Mejia courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Departement