NORWALK >> A Norwalk man who fatally shot his friend and tried to stage the death as a suicide received a sentence of more than four decades in prison after pleading “no contest” to first-degree murder, authorities said.
Diego Arnold Castro, 33, of Norwalk, entered the plea in Norwalk Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement. He was immediately sentenced to 45 years to life in state prison.
An addition to a charge of murder, Ardalani said Castro also admitted the special allegation that he personally used a firearm in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Jose Angel Rios, also a local resident, at Castro’s home in the 14500 block of Halcourt Ave.
Castro and his victim had gone to school together and been friends for “many years” prior to the shooting , Ardalani said.
“On Jan. 15, 2015, Castro picked up Alvarez and took him to the defendant’s Norwalk home,” Ardalani said.
“While Alvarez was sitting on Castro’s couch, the defendant came up behind the victim and shot him in the left side of his head,” she said.
“The defendant then shot himself in the leg to make it seem as though the victim had shot Castro and then committed suicide,” Ardalani said. The defendant called 911 and told authorities Alvarez had shot him and then killed himself, the prosecutor said.
Authorities initially believed Castro’s account, but suspicions grew as the investigation unfolded and evidence continued coming to light, officials said.
The victim was shot in the left side of his head, Syn said. The victim was right-handed.
After receiving treatment for his gunshot wound, detectives arrested Castro for Rios’ murder on Jan. 23, 2015, records show.
Castro never revealed a motive, however Syn said he suspected he was jealous of his friend’s wife.
The two had been involved in an affair previously, but the issue was believed to be resolved at the time of the killing, Syn said. The prosecutor said Castro and Rios were extremely close and described them as “best friends.”
On the day of the shooting, Castro sent Rios’ wife a text message, pretending to be Castro, saying that was going to kill himself and to “take good care of Diego,” according to Syn.
The negotiated plea came during what was scheduled to a hearing to set a preliminary hearing date, according to Deputy District Attorney Don Syn, who prosecuted the case.
Castro was initially accused of the special circumstance of lying in wait, which could have potentially made him eligible for the death penalty if convicted at trial. Authorities had not yet determined whether to pursue capital punishment in Castro’s case.
SOUTH EL MONTE >> Homicide detectives are seeking the killer or killers of a man found shot to death inside an SUV in a South El Monte parking lot Saturday night.
Deputies first received a report of a gunshot victim about 9:10 p.m. in a parking lot shared by several businesses in the 2000 block of Durfee Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“When they arrived, the deputies located the victim seated in the driver’s seat of an SUV in the parking lot,” according to Deputy Crystal Hernandez of the sheriff’s Information Bureau. “The victim had an undetermined number of gunshot wounds to his upper torso.”
Paramedics pronounced the victim, described only as a man, dead at the scene.
“Detectives are continuing to speak with possible witnesses, however there is no suspect description at this time. The investigation is still active and ongoing,” Hernandez said.
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.
BASSETT >> The death of a 24-year-old Bassett woman discovered unresponsive in her bed over the weekend is now being investigated as a homicide after it was determined the woman was strangled in the middle of the night as her parent slept in the same house, sheriff’s officials said Friday.
Kassandra Maricel Sandoval was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday after her mother discovered her not breathing at her home in the 13200 block of Gyna Lane in the unincorporated county area and called 911, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
No obvious signs of trauma were visible on Sandoval’s body and her cause of death was not initially clear, Deputy Crystal Hernandez of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said at the time.
In the days since, “It was determined that the victim’s cause of death was asphyxiation,” Deputy Grace Medrano of the sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement. “The case was ruled a homicide.”
“Homicide investigators are continuing their investigation to seek for the person (or persons) responsible for the death of Kassandra Sandoval,” Medrano said.
Lt. John Corina of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said the circumstances surrounding Sandoval’s slaying remained largely a mystery.
Her car was missing from her home when her body was discovered, but soon recovered less than a mile from the home, parked along Workman Mill Road, Corina said.
Her parents last saw her the day before, when she went out for the evening, the lieutenant said. It was not yet clear whether she returned home alone or was accompanied by someone.
At some point during the night, an unknown attacker strangled Sandoval and escaped from the home, undetected by Sandoval’s parents, who were asleep under the same roof.
There were no signs of forced entry to the house, Corina said.
“Somebody did come in the house. Something ended up occurring. That’s what we’re trying to piece together,” he said.
Salvador was unmarried and was not believed to be involved in a committed romantic relationship at the time of her death, Corina said.
“We’re not sure what the motive is here,” he said.
Sandoval’s official cause of death remained listed as “deferred” and remained under investigation at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner pending the result of toxicology tests, coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said. But case notes described the death as a likely homicide, and Corina said the evidence already available made it clear that Salvador was the victim of a homicide.
Anyone with information is asked to call 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.
MONTBELLO >> A Montebello man who beat and strangled his wife before stashing her body in the trunk of the family car and fleeing with the couple’s four children in late-2014 admitted charges of murder and child abuse Thursday, prosecutors said.
Daniel Diego Perez was charged with murder and other crimes for the slaying of 39-year-old Erica Perez, whose body was discovered on the afternoon of Dec. 10, 2014, in the trunk of the family’s 2010 Honda Accord, parked at 2nd Street and Harding Avenue, Montebello police Capt. Luis Lopez said at the time. The family of six was reported missing Dec. 9 after a relative reported they had not been seen since Dec. 5.
Police arrested Daniel Perez and recovered the four boys — then-ages 6, 8, 9 and 11 — following a pursuit that ended with a standoff near Santee.
During what was scheduled to be a pre-trial hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, “Daniel Diego Perez, 45, pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of of his 39-year-old wife, Erica,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in written statement.
He also admitted two counts of child abuse for endangering his two younger sons during the pursuit and standoff leading up to his arrest. The search for the father and sons resulting in a statewide Amber Alert.
Judge Leslie Swain sentenced Perez to 15 years to life in prison for the murder, plus seven years and four months for the child abuse.
Daniel Perez previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, which originally included kidnapping as well.
An autopsy determined Erica Perez died from probably asphyxia and strangulation, according to Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner records. Investigators also noted multiple blunt force traumatic injuries as an additional significant cause of the death. The death was ruled a homicide.
When police were first seeking the missing couple, prior to the discovery of Erica Perez’s body, police relayed that family members had reported the couple’s marriage was “unstable” and there was a history of domestic violence.
The couple’s four children have since been placed in the care of family members.
PHOTOS; Erica Perez, left. Daniel Perez, right. (Courtesy)
BALDWIN PARK >> An El Monte man already condemned to spend life behind bars received a new sentence of 86 years to life in state prison on Tuesday for the fatal shooting of a rival gang member on Christmas Eve in 2010, prosecutors said.
Johnny Mata, 35, who has also been convicted of a second, non-fatal gang shooting in Baldwin Park in 2012, spent more than a year as a fugitive after he was accidentally released from jail in 2013 while awaiting trial, then recaptured in Mexico in Mexico.
A jury Convicted Johnny Mata, 35, guilty last month of two felony counts of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in the fatal shooting of 31-year-old David Deanda Jr., Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said. Jurors also found true the special, sentence-enhancing allegation that the killing was gang-related.
Co-defendant Jesus Arroyo Lule, 35, pleaded “no contest” in 2014 to a felony count of voluntary manslaughter for Deanda’s slaying and is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Pomona Branch.
Lule drove Mata to rival gang territory in the 13200 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park. Baldwin Park in the predawn hours of Dec. 24, district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
“Once there, Mata exited the car and walked up to a house where David Deanda Jr., 31 was standing in the driveway,” according to the statement. “Mata then fatally shot Deanda in the torso before fleeing the scene, the prosecutor added.
Mata exited the car and walked up to Deanda Jr. who was standing in the driveway of a residence, Barkhurst said. Mata then fatally shot Deanda in the torso before fleeing the scene.
A third defendant, then-27-year-old Christina Montenegro, was initially charged in connection with the 2012 shooting, but the charges were ultimately dropped.
Deanda, who worked as a welder, was survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter, according to family.
Prior to being arrested
In April 2012, Mata shot at the home of another rival gang member in Baldwin Park, and was found guilty of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in a 2015 trial. He was sentenced to life, plus 25 years, in state prison for those crimes. But the jury deadlocked on the murder charge stemming from Deanda’s fatal shooting, leading to a second trial.
Following his initial arrest in May of 2012 in connection with the Baldwin Park slaying, Mata spent more than a year on the lam after he as accidentally released due to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department clerical error.
He was re-captured in April of 2014 in Mexico and returned to the U.S. to face justice.
Following Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Mata is now serving a total sentence of life in prison, plus 111 years to life in prison.
PHOTO: Johnny Mata of El Monte, (Courtesy)
AZUSA >> The body of a 27-year-old dancer reported missing in West Covina earlier this week was discovered along a forest road north of Azusa Saturday morning, authorities confirmed Sunday.
Rahkeem “Rocky” Reyes of West Covina disappeared Sept. 5.
Reyes’ car was found with its engine running and his wallet and laptop computer inside in the 1500 block of McWood Street in West Covina, causing family members to fear something had happened to him.
Their worst fears were confirmed Sunday, when police conformed the body was that of Reyes.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, along with the San Dimas Search and Rescue team, found the body about 10:15 a.m. Saturday along mile marker 2.5 of San Gabriel Canyon Road, in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives soon realized the body was related to the West Covina missing person case, and the investigation was turned over to the West Covina Police Department.
“West Covina Police have been involved in an intense investigation that started with the disappearance of Rahkeem Reyes six days ago,” West Covina police Lt. David Lee said. “Their investigation led them to the area in Azusa Canyon where his body was found.”
Meanwhile, investigators have arrested a man on suspicion of murder in connection with Reyes’ death.
West Covina police arrested Phillip Von Wade, 20, of West Covina during the early-morning hours Thursday, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
Reyes, a professional dancer, was last known to be with Wade before he disappeared, Hampton said.
Information regarding the motive in the killing was not available Sunday. The relationship between the victim and suspect remained under investigation, Lee said.
Reyes, a professional dancer, was last known to be with Wade before he disappeared, Reyes’ girlfriend, Christina Oliver, said in an email.
Reyes had hired Wade to make a costume for him several months ago for between $700 and $900, but it was never completed, Oliver said.
Reyes went to Wade’s house in West Covina on the afternoon of Sept. 5 in order to be fitted for a portion of the costume, she said. She began looking for him when he never came home.
Oliver said her boyfriend had no enemies.
“There was no reason For anyone to be mad at Rocky,” Oliver said. “He is not gang related, he doesn’t do drugs, he doesn’t drink nor does he owe anyone money.”
Coroner’s investigators have yet to determine Reyes’ cause of death.
Wade was being held in lieu of $1 million bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Monday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Pomona branch.
Anyone with information was asked to contact West Covina police at 626-939-8500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PHOTOS: [ABOVE] – Rahkeem “Rocky” Reyes, 27, of West Covina. (Courtesy) [BELOW] – Phillip Von Wade, 20, of West Covina. (Courtesy)
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Homicide detectives are investigating a death reported in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa Saturday morning, authorities said.
Few details were initially available regarding the death, which was first reported about 10:30 a.m. in the Azusa Canyon, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Sheriff’s officials described the location of the incident as mile-marker 2.5 of Azusa Avenue. However, Azusa avenue transitions into San Gabriel Canyon Road as it heads north into the mountains above the 210 Freeway.
Coroner’s officials joined detectives from the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau in the investigation, officials said.
No further details were released.
Anyone with information was 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.
PICO RIVERA >> Two Pico Rivera teens could face life in prison at their sentencing later this month after being convicted of murder and other charges for fatally stabbing and strangling one of the teen’s father during a home-invasion robbery nearly two years ago, authorities said Friday.
A Norwalk jury convicted Sergio Anthony Gutierrez, 19, and friend Angel Emilio Estrello, 17, of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of home-invasion robbery each in connection with the Sept. 20, 2014, slaying of 50-year-old Sergio Gutierrez at his home, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling said. Emilio was additionally convicted of burglary.
“Gutierrez and Estrello were found guilty all counts and the special circumstance found to be true,” Risling said.
Prosecutors alleged that the murder was committed during the course of a robbery, Risling said. But because both killers were juveniles at the time of the killing — Gutierrez was 17 and Estrello was 15 — they cannot receive the death penalty under California Law.
Gutierrez and Estrello each face a maximum sentence of life behind bars when they return to the Norwalk branch of Los Angeles County Superior court for sentencing on Sept. 19 and Sept. 23, respectively.
In addition to stealing money, Sergio Anthony Gutierrez took part in the attack and robbery of his father because he was angry with his father for “disrespecting” him, Risling said.
“It was not just one argument, but a history of conduct that he felt disrespected by,” he said. “Such as: the decedent (removed) the door of his bedroom (and) made him sleep outside if he got home late.”
The two teens were tried in one trial, but by two separate juries.
A third defendant in the case, 20-year-old Jesus Rafael Adame, declared in July that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial, according to Risling. A mental competency hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.
Prosecutors have elected not to seek capital punishment in Adame’s case, Risling said.
All three suspects were friends who attended El Rancho High School together.
Deputies, and ultimately homicide detectives, responded to the Gutierrez family’s home in a gated community in the 3700 block of Oaklawn Lane about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 20.
Video: Homicide detectives discusses fatal Pico Rivera home-invasion robbery
They discovered the elder Sergio Gutierrez suffering from stab wounds to his torso, officials said at the time. He was rushed to Beverly Hospital in Montebello where he succumbed to his injuries.
An autopsy later determined the victim died from sharp force trauma and neck compression, and the death was ruled a homicide, said Ed Winter, Assistant Chief of Operations at the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
The victim’s son wielded the knife in the attack, Risling said.
“However, the stab wounds were superficial and were not the cause of death,” he said. “The stranglehold employed by defendant Angel Estrello was the main cause of death.”
Cash, credit cards and the family’s 2000 Infiniti sedan were missing from the home.
Lt. Holly Francisco of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Homicide Bureau initially stopped short of labeling the younger Gutierrez a suspect in the killing, but pointed out that he was believed to have been present during the deadly home-invasion robbery, and could not be found in the hours following the killing.
Deputies arrested Gutierrez and Adame in connection with slaying the following day, and Estrello turned himself in to authorities the same afternoon.
ALTADENA >> Fed up with a spate of shootings that has left at least four people wounded and a 4-year-old boy dead in recent weeks, members of the Altadena community held a silent walk for peace in an effort to take back their streets from violence.
Marchers of all ages gathered at Lincoln Avenue and Woodbury Road, before making their way to Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive in a “Mile of Men” march held in conjunction with Hillside Tabernacle Church.
“We’re trying to control our neighborhood and take back our community back,” said. Helen Liddell, whose 25-year-old grandson was wounded in a July 30 shooting near the end of the march route at Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive. “These things need to be known. We need to stop and correct this.”
He was walking home from a friend’s house when he heard someone following behind him, the grandmother said. He turned around just in time to see someone in a white T-shirt opening fire with a handgun. The victim fled his attacker, but was wounded in his legs.
“Wrong place, wrong day,” Liddell said. The shooting remains unsolved.
Liddell’s grandson, who she said has no gang-involvement, is recovering well from the shooting and took part in the march. Despite his physical progress in his recuperation, he is continuing to deal with psychological issues from the attack, Liddell said. He becomes alarmed when he hears loud noises, such as balloons popping.
Displaying signs with messages such as, “Stop the violence,” “God, Family, Community,” and “Unity in the Community,” dozens of demonstrators decried the senseless bloodshed the community has recently witnessed…
PHOTOS via James Carbone
SOUTH WHITTIER >> Hundreds of loved ones, family members and fellow Los Angeles County sheriff’s Explorer scouts on Sunday will mark the 5th anniversary of the slaying of an Explorer and another man with a march and candlelight vigil to honor the victims’ lives and renew their call for justice in the unsolved double-homicide.
The march has been held, and grown, each year since Aug. 28, 2011, when 19-year-old Norwalk sheriff’s Explorer Cesar Rodriguez and friend Larry Villegas, 24, both of Whittier, in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue in the unincorporated county area of South Whittier.
The group will gather at 7 p.m. at the corner of Laurel and Beaty avenues, organizers said.
During the annual marches, which passes by the scene of the shooting, marchers hand out fliers seeking information on the killings.
Anyone with information on the case 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.