A judge earlier this week handed down a prison sentence of 30 years to life to a man acquitted of murdering a woman found slain at a Pico Rivera park 15 years ago, but convicted of raping two other women several years later, officials said.
A Los Angeles Superior Court Jury convicted Shawn Lavaway Rankin, 46, of Los Angeles in May of two counts of rape, as well as one count of forced oral copulation in connection with two attacks that took place in Los Angeles in 2000 and 2001, said Deputy District Attorney Alison Meyers, who prosecuted the case.
But the jury acquitted him of the rape and fatal stabbing of 41-year-old Wyesser Cook of Los Angeles, whose body was discovered in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 1997, at Bicentennial Park in Pico Rivera, Meyers said.
The investigations into both Cook’s slaying and the two rapes all ran cold until 2005, when DNA tied all three crimes together and provided detectives with new clues.
He had been arrested and convicted of a Los Angeles sexual battery in 2000, but at the time, a system was not in place to collect DNA samples from felons, Meyers said. Rankin fulfilled his registration requirements as a convicted sex offender following his conviction and release from prison.
In 2005, detectives announced that the same man’s DNA had been found at the scenes of the slaying and both rapes. But Rankin was not linked to the crimes.
“The case remained unsolved, essentially because Mr. Rankin’s DNA had never been taken and put into the system,” Meyers said.
Interviews with the surviving rape victims allowed LAPD sketch artist Marylin Diaz to create a composite drawing of the suspect, which Meyers described as “one of the best composite’s I’ve seen.”
In the years that followed, a detectives did collect a DNA sample from Rankin and entered it into their database, Meyers explained. Rankin was arrested when his DNA was found to match the profile of that in all three cases in September of 2007, according to officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
His trial began in April and drew to a close in May, when the jury found Rankin guilty of the sex crimes against the two surviving victims, but not guilty of raping and murdering Cook, Meyers said.
He was sentenced to consecutive terms of 15 years to life in prison for each count of rape, officials said, as well as another eight years, to be served concurrently, for the forced oral copulation charge.
In the 2001 attack, Rankin offered a woman a ride in his car, then assaulted her once she was inside, Meyers said. In the 2002 case, you gave a woman a ride home, then returned to her home later in the day to sexually assault her.
Rankin’s defense attorney Lawrence Forbes declined to comment Friday.
Meyers said the murder case was less straight-forward than the rape cases for two primary reasons.
More than one man’s DNA was found in connection with Cook’s body, and a defense witness testified that another man, who is now dead, may have been responsible for the slaying.
Meyers said she believed, “a combination of the two created in the jurors minds a reasonable doubt.”
Meyers said at his sentencing, Rankin offered an apology in court, though the victims were not present to hear it.
“I’d like to think it was sincere,” she added.
PICO RIVERA — An alleged would-be copper thief received a 12,000-volt shock and severe burns while attempting to steal wire from a Southern California Edison breaker station over the weekend, authorities said.
Billy Ray Owens, 51, of Whittier was hospitalized in critical condition after he was found unconscious Sunday morning at the utility equipment site in the 9900 block of Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Smith said.
The failed heist also caused a power outage that affected thousands of SCE customers in Pico Rivera and nearby West Whittier for nearly two hours, the lieutenant said.
The outage affected 20,548 SCE customers, SCE spokeswoman Susan Cox said.
A SCE supervisor went to the site to check on an alarm that had been triggered about 4:40 a.m., Smith said.
“When he arrived, he found the suspect semi-conscious, lying on the ground,” Smith said. The suspect, later identified as Owens, suffered severe burns running up his arm.
It was believed Owens was using a pair of bolt cutters which were found nearby to steal copper wiring when he received a 12,000-volt shock, Smith said. He was hospitalized in critical condition.
Burglary charges were expected to be filed when Owens’ condition improves, Smith added.
SCE workers had to de-energize the breaker station for about two hours to allow for the rescue of the injured man and repair of the damaged circuits, officials said. Smith said the incident caused an estimated $45,000 worth of damage to the SCE site.
All power was restored to affected customers by 6:52 a.m., Cox said. The official cause of the outage remained under investigation by SCE officials.
PICO RIVERA — Deputies caught two men in the act of stealing wiring from an AT&T cell tower site early Friday, officials said.
William Price and Sean Sheets, both 33 and of Downey, were booked on suspicion of burglary and possession of burglary tools following their arrests shortly after 3 a.m. in the 4500 block of Rosemead Boulevard, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Smith said.
The sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station received a call reporting a burglary in progress at the cell tower site, comprised of a cell tower and a building housing electrical equipment, the lieutenant said.
Deputies arrived to find a gate surrounding the facility had been forced open.
They entered the building and found two men — later identified as Price and Sheets — lying on the floor, Smith said.
The men told deputies they had been accidentally locked inside the building, he said. But deputies found several locked metal boxes had been ripped open and wiring pulled out, along with bolt cutters and a portable reciprocating saw.
Officials had not yet obtained an estimate of the value of the damage from AT&T Friday morning, Smith said.
Price and Sheets were being held ion lieu of $40,000 bail each pending their scheduled arraignments Tuesday in Downey Superior Court, according to sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
PICO RIVERA — A pair of robbery suspects were foiled by their appetites earlier this week after they stopped for lunch at a local restaurant just after their alleged heist and used the victim’s credit card to pay, officials said.
Raymond Arthur Ortega, 29, of Los Angeles and Vernonica Ruiz, 46, of Long Beach, were arrested Tuesday in connection with Tuesday reported robbery, which took place just before noon at at the Knights Inn, 6540 Rosemead Boulevard, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records. Both were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Downey Superior Court.
The victim, a man in his early 30s, was staying at the motel and had given a cigarette to Ortega, who was also believed to be staying at the motel, the night before, sheriff’s Lt. Robert Smith said. The following morning, he asked to use Ortega’s phone and the couple invited them into their room.
While inside, Ortega demanded the victim’s room key, Smith said, telling the victim, “You give me your key or I’ll get it the hard way.” Ortega then allegedly snatched the man’s room key, as well as a prepaid credit card.
The victim ultimately managed to get out of the suspects’ motel room and run down to the lobby to seek help, the lieutenant said. Meanwhile, he said, Ortega then burglarized the victim’s motel room, stealing about $20 in cash, documents and a laptop computer bag.
Handling detectives quickly determined the stolen credit card had been used at a restaurant nearby in the 6700 block of Rosemead Boulevard, Smith said. Ruiz was spotted at a table on the restaurant’s patio and arrested.
Deputies found Ortega inside a nearby bakery and also took him into custody, Smith said.
Ortega was booked on suspicion of robbery and burglary, while Ruiz was suspected of robbery, fale imprisonment and violating her probation from a previous case, officials said.
According to county booking records, Ortega was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, while Ruiz was being held without bail.
PICO RIVERA – A brush fire broke out in the riverbed and charred up to an acre Friday night.
The fire was reported at 5:23 p.m. in the riverbed near Fairway and Bradgate Drives.
Robert Diaz, a supervising dispatcher with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said no one was injured in the fire which was knocked down at 6:33 p.m.
The fire burned three fourths to an acre of brush, he said,
Diaz said what started the fire hasn’t been determined.
- Ruby Gonzales
A valet died and a security guard was wounded early Sunday when a man angered over being kicked out of a Pico Rivera nightclub returned with a gun and opened fire, authorities said.
Three men and two women were arrested in connection with the 2:39 a.m. shooting outside the El Rodeo nightclub, 8825 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. Those in custody included the alleged shooter, as well as four others who accompanied him at the time of the shooting.
Paramedics took the wounded valet to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7:51 a.m., coroner’s Lt. Cheryl MacWillie said. His name was not available pending positive identification and notification of family members, however sheriff’s officials initially described him as being in his mid- to late-20s.
The wounded security guard was hospitalized in stable condition, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Officials described the security guard as a man in his mid- to late-30s.
Shortly before the shooting, “A group of people was kicked out of the club for being disruptive,” Corina said. Some members of the group were believed to be drunk.
The group left, but returned a short time later, nearly 40 minutes after the club’s 2 a.m. closing time, the lieutenant said. But club staff would not allow them back in.
“They got into an argument with the security guard and the valet,” he said.
The alleged shooter retrieved a handgun from his car and opened fire, striking the two men, Corina said. He then began running west along Washington Boulevard.
“Luckily, we had some deputies just seconds away,” he said. Club security pointed out the fleeing gunman to the deputies, who caught him after a brief foot chase.
A handgun was found tossed beneath a car in the club’s parking lot, Corina said.
Two men and two women who had been with the shooter were arrested in the parking lot, he added.
The suspects’ names were not initially available.
The shooting took place on the west side of the building and was captured on surveillance video, Corina said. The video was not publicly released.
Detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau are leading the investigation, and anyone with information can reach the bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips can also be given anonymously via the L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
PICO RIVERA — Authorities Saturday released the name of a 38-year-old Pico Rivera man shot to death early Friday while riding his bike.
Raymond Joseph Flores died at the scene of the shooting, which took place about 4 a.m. at Serapis Avenue and Terradell Street in Pico Rivera, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Larry Dietz said.
Little information was available regarding the circumstances of the shooting.
Witnesses heard gunshots before discovering Flores lying wounded in the street, Lt. Mike Rosson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene.
No suspect description was available, Rosson said, however the shooting was being investigated as possibly gang-related.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
PICO RIVERA – A man died early Friday after he was shot while riding his bicycle, officials said.
The name of the dead man had not been identified Friday morning, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
Coroner’s officials estimated the man to be in his 30s or 40s, while sheriff’s investigators estimated the man to be in his 20s.
The fatal shooting was reported about 4 a.m. at the corner of Serapis Avenue and Terradell Street, sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
“The victim was riding a bike down the street,” Lt. Mike Rosson of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
No eyewitnesses to the attack had been located, however witnesses reported hearing gunshots before going outside to see what had happened, the lieutenant said.
They discovered a man lying wounded in the street, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, he said.
Paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene.
No suspect description was available, and it was unclear whether a vehicle was involved in the shooting, Rosson said.
Authorities suspected the shooting was gang-related.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
PICO RIVERA — Law enforcement officials from the past and present gathered Wednesday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station.
Sheriff’ Lee Baca was joined at the ceremony by other sheriff’s officials including station Capt. James Thornton Jr., who currently heads the station, as well as five past captains.
Attendees from all generations were invited to tour the station following the ceremony, “comparing its current state to the days of old,” Thornton said.
“This is like coming home,. This is a great place ot have worked,” said former captain Larry Anderson, who led the station from 1978 to 1980. “I just appreciate being a part of this family.”
Juan Rodriguez, who served at the station’s captain from 1997 to 2004, also shared fond memories of serving the people of Pico Rivera.
“I loved it,” he said. “I thought it was the best community where we could possibly work.”
“I miss it dearly,” he said. “I miss it every day. I love this station. I love this community and I’ll always treasure it from the bottom of my heart.”
Patrol cars from the station’s early days, including a 1970 Plymouth Fury and a 1978 Chevrolet Nova, were on display next to their modern counterparts
Sheriff Baca credited the current and former captains with making the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station what it is today.
The station itself is only a building, he said.
“(The captains) are the ones who built the sheriff’s department’s legacy here,” Baca said.
He also commended city officials for their partnership with the sheriff’s department over the past four decades.
“What we’ve had is a great relationship that is built upon our city’s leadership,” the sheriff said. “We obviously enjoy working for this great city of Pico Rivera.
Baca added that after 40 years of service, the station was growing crowded and it planned to look into possibilities for expansion.
PICO RIVERA — Authorities have released the name of a 48-year-old man whose body was found possibly burned earlier this month in the San Gabriel riverbed, according to officials and friends.
The body of Albert Martinez was found in an advanced stage of decomposition about 9:50 a.m. July 4 in the riverbed, about 100 yards south of Beverly Boulevard, according to Los Angeles County coroner and sheriff’s officials. A city of residence was not listed, however his priest said he was a transient with lifelong ties to Pico RIvera.
Sheriff’s officials initially estimated that the body had been there for days or weeks.
Further investigation indicated a fire was involved, coroner’s officials said. An official cause of death remained undetermined pending test results, and no further details were available. An official cause was not expected to be determined for more than a month.
Father Joshua Lee of the St. Hilary Church of Perpetual Adoration said Martinez grew up in the area and had attended the church since he was a little boy.
“I knew him very well,” Lee said, adding that he last saw Martinez two to three weeks before his body was discovered.
Though Martinez had long struggled with alcoholism, “He was a very fine man in many ways,” Lee said. “When he was sober, he was a wonderful, wonderful person.”
“He was a man of deep prayer,” the priest added.
St. Hilary is open 24 hours per day, and Lee said Martinez would sometimes be seen there praying both early in the morning and late at night.
A deeply philosophical man, he was homeless by choice, refusing efforts by family members and the church to get him off the streets, Lee said.
Martinez would say his homelessness was his “penance” for past transgressions.
The death was being investigated by detectives from the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau. Anyone with information was asked to contact the bureau at 323-890-5500.