Man guilty of double murder in 2012 Pasadena boarding house arson

PASADENA >> A Pasadena man will spend the rest of his life in prison after a jury convicted him Friday of two counts of murder and other charges for torching a Pasadena boarding home in 2012, killing two men and leaving another severely burned.
A Pasadena jury deliberated for less than an hour before declaring Garth Allen Robbins, who turned 54 on Wednesday, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson causing great bodily injury and one count of arson of an inhabited structure in connection with the deadly and intentional Nov. 1, 2012, fire at a three-story illegal boarding home where he was staying at 1385 El Sereno Ave., according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling.
“Evidence presented at trial showed that Robbins started the fire at about 2 a.m., when 17 others were asleep inside the house,” Risling said in a written statement. “He doused his room with gasoline and set it ablaze.”
The jury also found true the special allegations of multiple murders, as well as murder in the commission of the arson of an inhabited building, making him potentially eligible for the death penalty, he said. But the prosecution previously elected not to seek capital punishment in the case.
Robbins is expected to be sentenced to two life terms in prison, without the possibility of parole, when he returned to the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court for sentencing on June 7.
Pasadena Fire Department Battalion Chief and Deputy Fire Marshal Wendell Easton said the date of the fatal fire was “a tragic day in Pasadena history.”
The motive in the deadly arson was never fully explained. But there was no indication his roommates were specifically targeted.
Robbins stated during the trial process that he’d lit the fire because “he wanted his life to go away,” Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
Robbins has been in custody since the day after the fire, more than four years ago.
“After four days of dramatic testimony by victims, firefighters and police officers, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts,” Eaton said.
Prosecutors initially filed 15 additional counts of attempted murder against Robbins for the 15 other survivors of the arson attack, but those charges were dismissed by the court prior to trial, Risling said.
Killed in the fire were Cliff Juan Clark and Paul Richard Boyd, who succumbed to smoke inhalation, coroner’s officials said. Another resident of the boarding home, then-65-year-old Perry Simmons, suffered sever injuries in the fire, but survived.
The owner of the boarding home has since pleaded guilty to violating a 2007 city ordinance barring boarding homes and group homes of more than six residents in most parts of the city.
Jeannette Broussard was initially charged with 136 municipal code violations, but ultimately agreed to plead guilty to 23 violations. She was received three years of probation, $6,200 in fines and penalties and victim restitution.
Eaton commended the many police and fire investigators who handled the complex case.
“Thank you to everyone involved, from the day of the fire to the successful prosecution of this case,” he said. “This incident highlights the unique and successful relationship between the Pasadena Police Department and the Pasadena Fire Department in the investigation of arson related offenses.”

PHOTO: Garth Allen Robbins, 54, was convicted of two counts of murder and two counts of arson on Friday, April 7, 2017, for a Nov. 1, 2012, arson fire at a Pasadena boarding home that left two men dead and another badly burned. Robbins is pictured during his preliminary hearing Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court.(SGVN/Staff File Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)

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FBI, police release video showing man suspected of tossing explosive into Pasadena Cheesecake Factory, $20K reward offered

PASADENA >> Police and FBI officials released surveillance video on Friday depicting a man suspected off tossing a homemade explosive device into a crowded Pasadena Cheesecake Factory restaurant last month and offered a $20,000 reward for information in the case.
No one was hurt during the bizarre incident, which took place just after 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 at the restaurant at 2 W. Colorado Blvd. But the unexplained attack left nerves on edge, and investigators continue seeking the man responsible.
The FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading the arrest of the person or people responsible for the incident, said Deidre Fike, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
Investigators have been gathering clues, interviewing witnesses and following leads since Feb. 2, but the case remains unsolved.
“As we have exhausted those leads, the FBI is offering a reward up to $20,000 for any information that leads to tips and information that identifies the individual or group involved in this act,” Fike said.
To that end, authorities released surveillance camera video footage from a Ralph’s grocery store at 320 W. Colorado Blvd., where Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said the suspect went immediately after the “homemade pyrotechnic device” was tossed into the restaurant. The footage shows a bearded man with a pigeon-toed gate walking through the store.
The video, “captured images of the suspect wearing a white T-shirt and carrying dark clothing, originally worn at the time of the incident,” Sanchez said.
The suspect is later seen discarding the black item of clothing in a trash can. The garment was not recovered, Sanchez said.
Police have described the suspect as a possibly Latino or Middle Eastern man of about 6 feet tall, with a heavy beard, wearing all-black clothing.
Sanchez said investigators had conducted surveillance on another man who turned out not to be involved.
Officials declined to describe the recovered explosive device in detail. It was unclear whether it had detonated to its full potential, or malfunctioned. The device caused only minor damage inside the restaurant.
Mayor Terry Tornek previously said the device was more akin to a firecracker than a bomb.
And the intent of the man who lobbed the device also remains unknown.
“The truth of the matter is we don’t know, and our evidence will take us where we need to be. If it was an elaborate prank, that’s what the evidence will show. If it was something greater than that, we have extraordinary investigators in the FBI and the Pasadena Police Department.”
Between the reward and the clear video footage, Fike said investigators were optimistic that new information will come to light.
“We believe that once this video is released, it will lead to tips coming in that will support the investigation, she said.
“Until we really identify who the individual is, determine the motive for this action and have an opportunity to interview him and any associates, we really don’t know,’ Fike said.
“We have no reason right now, we have no evidence to believe it was a terrorist attack. But again, we do not know the motive, and that’s why we’re reaching out to the community,” she said.
Once the suspect has been identified and interviewed, “We’ll follow the facts from there.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles tip line at 800-225-5324. Tipsters can remain anonymous, Fike said.

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Man accused of setting arson fire on Azusa Pacific College campus

AZUSA >> An Azusa man is accused of arson for intentionally lighting fire to a field of grass on the campus of Azusa Pacific University on Saturday afternoon, authorities said.
Jesus Moreno, 31, was booked on suspicion of arson in connection with the fire, which was first reported about 3 p.m. on a grass median in the parking lot of college’s west campus, 701 E. Foothill Blvd., Azusa police Sgt. Andy Sutcliffe said.
Upon receiving reports of the fire, officials encountered a 60-foot by 60-foot area of grass on fire, he said. Los Angeles County firefighters made quick work of the flames.
Police were investigating the scene when they noticed Moreno walking nearby, Sutcliffe said.
“What caught their attention was the fact the entire right side of the baggy, button-up shirt he wore had clearly been burned,” according to the sergeant. Moreno himself was uninjured.
“Once detained, Moreno told officers he did not have a place to stay, and intentionally lit the fire to get the attention of police officers,” he said. He provided no further explanation for his actions.
Moreno succeeded at both. He was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Azusa Police Department’s jail pending his initial court appearance.

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UPDATED: Man sought after hurling explosive into Old Pasadena Cheesecake factory

  • PASADENA >> No one was hurt when a man threw some type of “homemade pyrotechnic device” into a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Old Pasadena on Thursday evening, authorities said.
    The attacker remained at large following the incident, which took place just after 6 p.m. at the restaurant at 2 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena police Lt. Art Chute said.
    The restaurant was crowded with diners when a man opened the front doors and tossed in the device, which exploded, the lieutenant said.
    No injuries or significant damage to the building were reported.
    “Officers immediately entered the restaurant and evacuated customers and employees and located a detonated homemade pyrotechnic device,” Pasadena police said in a written statement. “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Bomb squad responded to the scene and rendered the device safe.”
    The device was described as a seemingly homemade pyrotechnic device containing gunpowder, Chute said.
    The man who threw the device was last seen fleeing the area on foot.
    The motive in the bizarre attack remained a mystery.
    “Pasadena police detectives are currently handling the investigation and out of an abundance of caution, the federal authorities have been notified,” according to the statement.
    Police described the man as a Latino or Middle Eastern man, about 6 feet tall, of thin build, with a heavy beard. He wore all black clothing and a black beanie.
    Anyone with information can reach Pasadena police at 626-744-4241. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
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UPDATED: Two women arrested in connection with Pasadena vehicle arson

PASADENA >> Police and fire officials arrested the second of two suspects Thursday connected to the torching of a car in Pasadena six months ago, authorities said.
Police found and arrested Artesha Daniels, 39, of Pasadena in Los Angeles on Thursday morning, according to Pasadena police Lt. Jesse Carrillo and Los Angeles County booking records.
Fellow suspect Alejandra Martinez, 25, of Pasdena turned herself into authorities Tuesday, records show.
The suspects’ identities had been known to investigators since the days following the March 19 arson fire at La Tierra Street and Daisy Avenue, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
“(Fire investigators) had been actively searching for the suspects with the police department,” she said.
An arrest warrant was issued months ago, but the two suspects eluded authorities until this week.
The alleged arson, which destroyed the victim’s 2002 Volvo as it was parked on the street, was believed to have been motivated by personal dispute between the suspects and victim, Derderian said. Further details regarding the motive were not available.
Investigators found the Volvo had been doused with flammable liquid and set ablaze, she said.

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UPDATED: Man sought in arson, vandalism spree targeting 6 La Verne businesses

LA VERNE >> Police are seeking a man who went on an arson and vandalism spree targeting six La Verne businesses Tuesday night.
The rampage unfolded shortly before 10 p.m. at a string of businesses along Foothill Boulevard, between Damien Avenue and Baseline Road, La Verne police officials said in a written statement.
Arson suspect photoThe vandal lit a vehicle on fire outside a Molly Maid business, as well as a gazebo at the neighboring business, Outdoor Elegance, and two trash cans at a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant and a 76 gas station across the street, officials said.
He also smashed windows at Outdoor Elgance, Inland Dental and Kiddie Academy, police said. At the diner, he set fire to a grease container.
Mr. D’s Diner was open for business when the suspect lit the grease collector on fire outside the rear of the store.
Employees were unaware of the fire as the man entered the restaurant, gobbled down salad and left without paying his bill. The fire was discovered a short time later and extinguished by employees.
Based on the man’s strange behavior, “We believe he was impaired,” Detective Matthew Hadan said. During the destructive spree, “He was kind of just wandering around, almost aimlessly.”
Hadan said, all of the fired remained relatively small.
“It could have been way worse,” the detective said. “It was very fortunate.”
A dollar-value estimate of the damage caused by the vandal was not available. The motive in the seemingly random destruction was unclear.
Police described the arsonist as a white man, 19 to 20 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches tall, 145 pounds, with black wavy hair.
Anyone with information is asked to contact La Verne police Detective Matthew Hadan at 909-596-1913. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

VIDEO courtesy of the La Verne Police Department.

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La Puente woman convicted of stabbing elderly West Covina man to death, setting house on fire


WEST COVINA >> A La Puente woman who befriended an elderly West Covina man, stabbed him to death and set the house ablaze pleaded “no contest” to murder and arson charges Thursday, authorities said.
Brenda Armstrong, 40, is expected to be sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison when she returns to the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court for sentencing on Dec. 14, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.
She was originally accused of the special circumstance of murder during the coarse of a burglary, but the special circumstance allegation was dismissed under the negotiated plea arrangement, Deputy District Attorney Tony Cho of the D.A.’s Elder Abuse Section said. If convicted as originally charged, Armstrong could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors previously decided not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Ralph Simonian, 82, was found dead on Nov. 15, 2012, inside his burning home in the 900 block of Holiday Drive, according to prosecutors and Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators, who assisted West Covina police in the investigation.
“His house had been set on fire and he had been stabbed multiple times,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
After a lengthy investigation, detectives determined Simonian, who lived alone at his home, had been slain by Armstrong during a burglary at his home, Sgt. Robert Gray of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at the time.
She had befriended Simonian while working at J.B. Burgers in La Puente, where Simonian was a regular customer, officials said.
On the day of the slaying, a neighbor’s security camera captured images of a car Armstrong had borrowed arriving on the victim’s street, detectives and prosecutors said. Cell phone data also linked Armstrong to the crime scene.
Detectives first arrested Armstrong in connection with the slaying about two months after it occurred. But prosecutors declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence. Armstrong promptly moved to Delaware.
Detectives continued gathering evidence and building their case. Prosecutors ultimately filed a murder charge and issued an arrest warrant for Armstrong, who was taken into custody in Delaware during a traffic stop on Sept. 13, 2013.
Deputies found no signs of forced entry at Simonian’s home. Detectives learned she had visited the victim on several occasions, Gray said.
There were no signs of forced entry at Simonian’s home, the sergeant said. The fire, which began in the master bedroom where Simonian was fatally stabbed, was believed to have been set in order to destroy evidence.
The entire incident lasted about 45 minutes, Cho said.
Many of the details surrounding the slaying remain a mystery, as there were no witnesses, and Armstrong has not detailed the crime.
Officials said theft was believed to be the motive in the murder, but it was unclear what was stolen.
A small safe was discovered missing from Simonian’s home following the slaying and fire, Gray said.
The safe has never been recovered.
“We don’t know what was in the safe,” Cho said.
Absent of eye witnesses or DNA evidence, the case was largely “circumstantial,” Cho said.
He praised the tenacity of homicide detectives for Thursday’s conviction.
“I would jut credit with the detectives with putting together all the circumstantial evidence in the case,” Cho said.

PHOTO by Keith Birmingham

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UPDATED: Man gets 18 years for Pasadena auto body shop arson


PASADENA >> A homeless man received an 18-year prison sentence Wednesday after admitting to arson and other charges for torching a Pasadena auto body shop in 2014, officials said.
Jesse Cole Nicholas, 31,pleaded guilty to eight felony counts and one misdemeanor in the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said. The charges included arson of a structure, arson of a vehicle, auto theft, two counts of burglary and four counts of vandalism and petty theft.
“He was… given two strikes and ordered to pay over $550,000 in restitution,” Derderian said.
The case stems from a Sept. 27, 2014, arson fire that destroyed a building and two cars at Alliance Auto Body, 826 S. Arroyo Parkway, causing more than $375,000 worth of damage, officials said.
In addition to the charges, Nicholas also admitted to the special allegations of using an accelerant in the structure arson, and that the damage exceeded $200,000, Robison said.
The fire, which broke out about 7:20 a.m., was immediately deemed suspicious by fire investigators.
Derderian said the fire scorched a rear building used for detailing and prep work and destroyed two cars parked inside.
Surveillance camera footage depicted a man jumping a fence and breaking into the business just before the flames erupted, officials said at the time.
Nicholas stole a car and drove away, but returned several hours later and broke into several cars before lighting one on fire, Derderian said.
Nicholas, described as a “career criminal,” was believed to be high on drugs during the unusual crime.
He was on felony probation under the terms of AB 109 at the time of the arson, records show.
Police and fire investigators found and arrested Nicholas on outstanding warrants two days after the fire at Central Park.
He was being held on the previous charges when he was positively identified through DNA evidence as the arsonist in mid-October, Derderian said.
A restitution hearing was scheduled for June 1.

PHOTO: Pasadena firefighters work at the scene of an arson fire that caused about $375,000 damage to a building and two vehicles parked at Alliance Auto Shop, 826 S. Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (Courtesy, Pasadena Fire Department)

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Arsonists torch Industry warehouse

INDUSTRY >> An arson fire scorched an Industry warehouse packed with paper goods Wednesday, authorities said.
The fire was first reported about 2:45 a.m. at a 55,000-square-foot warehouse in the 700 block of South 5th Avenue, Los Angeles Count fire and sheriff’s officials said.
Though largely “kept in check” by the building’s sprinkler system, firefighters battled the stubborn blaze for nearly two hours until it was declared extinguished, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Randall Wright said. No injuries were reported.
But firefighters determined the scene of the fire appeared suspicious and called in investigators from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail, Wright said.
“The cause is arson,” sheriff’s Detective Cynthia Valencia said. It appeared the arsonist spread gasoline around in the rear portion of the warehouse before lighting it on fire.
The intent of the arsonists appeared to be to destroy the building, but they were thwarted by the businesses’ fire-suppression system, she added.
“(The) sprinkler system did a great job,” Valencia said.
Preliminary estimated of the damage cause to the warehouse, as well as the paper plates, paper cups and other similar items stored inside ranged between $300,000 and $500,000, the detective said.
A subleased portion of the warehouse, which is used as a packaging business, was unscathed, she said.
Investigators continued seeking clues Thursday, and trying to determine who would want to torch the warehouse, Valencia said.
The arsonists were described only as two men, driving a sedan.
“The owner is very cooperative,” Valencia said.
Firefighters remained at the scene until about noon, Wright said.
Any witnesses, or anyone who saw anything suspicious early Wednesday morning is asked to contact Detective Valencia at the sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail at 323-881-7500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Elderly woman killed in ‘suspicious’ Covina fire identified

COVINA >> Authorities Wednesday released the identity of an elderly woman who died Friday in a fire at her home labeled “suspicious” by homicide detectives.
Helen Lambert, 89, died at the scene of the fire, which ignited about 2 p.m. at the home she shared with her grandson in the 20900 block of Mesarica Road, in an unincorporated county area near Covina, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials.
Her charred remains were discovered by firefighters as they extinguished the blaze, which was primarily isolated to a bedroom toward the rear of the home.
An officials cause of death was yet to be determined by coroner’s investigators, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner. An autopsy has been completed, however, the cause of death has been deferred pending additional investigation.
Sheriff’s officials initially said arson was suspected in the fatal fire.
Lt. Steve Jauch of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau later described the fire as “suspicious” in nature, but declined to discuss what about the fire caught the attention of investigators. No arrests have been made.
The grandson, described by a friend as 18 years old, was not injured in the fire.
A friend of the grandson, 22-year-old Gabriel Garcia of Glendora, said he had just arrived to visit the grandson when his friend told him the house was on fire, and his grandmother was inside, Garcia said.
The two young men smashed a window or glass for at the rear of the home, but were unable to enter due to the extreme heat and thick smoke, Garcia said.
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.

— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.

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