La Puente man denies murder, attempted murder, other charges in connection with San Gabriel Valley crime spree

POMONA >> A La Puente man accused of fatally shooting a man in West Covina, as well as shooting and wounding his ex-girlfriend in Covina, during an alleged crime spree in April, pleaded not guilty to six felony charges Thursday, authorities said.
Manuel Jerome Lujan, described by police as a 33-year-old West Covina gang member, appeared in Pomona Superior court where he denied charges of murder, attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, robbery, assault with a firearm and exhibiting a concealed firearm in public, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Prosecutors further allege that Lujan intentionally fired a firearm causing injury or death, and that Lujan was previously convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2001.
His alleged series of violent crimes took place between April 26 and April 29. It began when Lujan robbed a man of his cell phone at gunpoint in Valinda and brandished a gun at other victims, according to prosecutors.
Three days later, he fatally shot 36-year-old Jabarri Butts behind a Social Security office in the 500 block of South Vincent Avenue, and opened fire on a nearby home, West Covina police officials said.
Hours later, he showed up at the home of his ex-girlfriend in the 300 block of West Center Street in Covina, Covina police Sgt. Gregg Peterson said. He through rocks and the woman’s window to get her attention, then shot her when she came to the window.
Lujan is scheduled to appear in Pomona Superior Court July 9 for a hearing, officials said. If convicted as charged, he could face life in prison.

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Man fatally shot inside his own home in Valinda

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VALINDA >> A man died at the scene of a shooting inside his own home in Valinda home early Sunday, authorities said.
The shooting took place just before 4 a.m. at a house in the 16000 block of Garrett Court, in the unincorporated county area of Valinda, Deputy Jeffrey Gordon of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
0223_NWS_SGT-L-VASHOOTING3A man gathered with family members at the corner of the small cul-de-sac said the home was that of his brother. The man said he did not know what had happened and he was waiting for information from the sheriff’s department. He did not wish to comment further.
The street was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape as investigators continued gathering clues inside the well-kept, beige, two-story home.
Detectives, coroner officials and forensic investigators continued working at the home through Sunday afternoon.
Nearby neighbors said they did not hear any gunshots, or anything else unusual in the early-morning hours.
0223_NWS_SGT-L-VASHOOTING2Tony Hoke was sleeping at the home a friend next to the shooting scene.
“What woke us up was the sirens,” he said.
Deputies knocked on his door a short time later to ask if he’d heard or seen anything regarding the shooting, he said.
No information regarding the circumstances of the shooting or any possible suspects was released.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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UPDATED: Man arrested following East Valinda stabbing

EAST VALINDA >> A man is accused of stabbing his friend during an argument in East Valinda Friday, officials said.
The alleged attack took place about 3 p.m. in the area of Valley Boulevard and La Seda Road, in an unincorporated county area surrounded by West Covina, La Puente and Industry, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. David Contreras of the sheriff’s Industry Station said.
Deputies ultimately booked Manuel Castellanos, 22, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, Capt. Tim Murakami said. He was believed to be a local resident.
The suspect and his alleged victim, also a man in his 20s, became involved in a dispute, Contreras said. The suspect pulled a knife, stabbing the victim in the torso and slicing his arm.
Contreras said the attacker fled from the scene but was soon captured by deputies.
Authorities said the victim was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition.
The suspect’s name was not available.
According to county booking records, Castellanos was being held in lieu of $30,000 bail his arraignment, scheduled Wednesday in West Covina Superior Court.

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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: Teenager killed in West Valinda shooting


WEST VALINDA >> A 17-year-old boy died Friday following a daytime shooting in a residential West Valinda neighborhood, authorities said.
The shooting took place about 11:40 a.m. at Amar Road and Millbury Avenue, in an SGT-L-SHOT2unincorporated county area just north of La Puente, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
“Detectives have learned that the 17-year-old victim was standing in the driveway of a residence with several acquaintances when two suspects approached them on foot,” Deputy Ruan Rouzan of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement. “One of the suspects shot the victim in the upper torso with a handgun.”
The victim died at the scene of the shooting.
“The suspects were last seen driving away in a blue or green vehicle in an unknown direction,” Rouzan said.
Investigators suspected the fatal shooting was gang-related, officials said.
The body of the victim remained in the driveway of a home at the corner of Millbury Avenue and Amar Road, concealed from public view by a green tarp, as sheriff’s deputies awaited the arrival of coroner officials Friday afternoon.
SGT-L-SHOT1Officials cordoned off the street with yellow crime scene tape, allowing only residents in an out of the area as they collected evidence and took measurements of the scene.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
— Staff writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this report.

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Officials: Pit bull fatally shot after attacking deputy in East Valinda

EAST VALINDA >> A deputy fatally shot a put bull as it attacked and bit his partner in the unincorporated county area of East Valinda Friday, officials said.
The shooting took place shortly before noon as two deputies were investigating a report of domestic violence in the 500 block of Richburn Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Nora Gutierrez said. Someone called deputies to report a boyfriend and girlfriend were involved in a fight in the backyard of a home.
No one responded at the home when deputies arrived, Gutierrez said. Based on the report of a possible domestic violence incident in progress, deputies made their way into the backyard to investigate.
A pit bull estimated to weigh 80 pounds attacked a female deputy in the yard, Gutierrez said. The deputy suffered a 2-inch cut to her forearm, as well as bruising all over her body.
Her partner opened fire on the dog, striking it three times, Gutierrez said. The dog died from its wounds.
The injuries deputy received treatment at a hospital, which released her Friday afternoon, the sergeant said.

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Anaheim man guilty of beating 19-month-old son to death in Valinda

POMONA >> A jury convicted an Anaheim man of murder Friday in the beating death of his 19-month-old son last year in Valinda, authorities said.
A Pomona Superior Court jury deliberated for less than two days before finding Jesus Vega Estrada, 44, guilty of second-degree murder, along with assault on a child causing death, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. He faces up to 25 years to life to prison when he returns to court for sentencing Dec. 15.
Estrada beat his 19-month-old son after picking the child up from the home of the boy’s mother in Valinda about 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2013, prosectors said. He told the boy’s mother he was taking the child to buy candy and juice.
Eric Avian Cervantes died at a West Covina hospital early the next morning, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Chief of Operations Craig Harvey.
“When Estrada and the child returned to the home about 11:45 p.m., the victim was vomiting,” according to the statement. “The parents then took the child to the hospital, where the toddler died early the next morning.”
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested Estrada the same morning, according to officials and county booking records.
Coroner’s investigators determined Cervantes died from “blunt force trauma” to his liver, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Coroners officials further determined that child suffered his injuries when he was struck by an adult, Harvey said. Investigators ruled the death a homicide.
The boy had also suffered broken ribs, trauma to his head and bruising on his body, district attorney’s officials said.
The injuries were believed to have been inflicted by Estrada’s hand or fist, Ardalani said. No weapon was believed to have been involved in the fatal attack.
During trial, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Michael Matoba argued that Estrada had committed to previous, unreported incidents of abuse against his son on Oct. 17 and Oct. 20, district attorney’s officials said.
A specific motive for the attack was unclear, however Ardalani said Estrada and the boy’s mother had been arguing over the amount of his child support payments prior to the killing.
Estrada was held without bail pending the trial process due to a hold placed on him by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

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Valinda man pleads not guilty to murder of girlfriend in Monrovia

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MONROVIA >> A Valinda man accused of strangling his girlfriend in an SUV before sending pictures of her body and an apologetic message to his mother pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Pasadena Superior Court, officials said.
Prosecutors charged Joel Velasquez, 49, last month with the murder of his 46-year-old girlfriend, Alice Marie Medina-Kaplan, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said. Deputies found her body Sept. 21 inside an SUV parked in her father’s backyard in the 200 block of Mauna Loa Drive in Monrovia.
Medina-Kaplan and Velasquez had been staying in the SUV, officials said.
Prosecutors also accuse Velasquez of the special allegation that he has a previous felony conviction in 2011 for making criminal threat.
Velasquez entered a not guilty plea, Santiago said. He is scheduled to come back to court Nov. 17 for a preliminary hearing setting.
An autopsy determined Medina-Kaplan died of strangulation, and her death was ruled a homicide, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operation Ed Winter said.
Via text message, “(Velasquez) sent pictures to his mother of his deceased girlfriend,” Winter said. The grisly photos were accompanied by a message saying he was sorry.
Handling detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, who are assisting Monrovia police in the investigation, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Friends recalled Medina-Kaplan was a woman with a once-bright future who was formerly married to an attorney and living in upscale neighborhoods before mental illness changes thr course of her life. Medina-Kaplan met Velasquez at a homeless shelter in Altadena.
Medina-Kaplan’s father told KABC that his daughter suffered from schizophrenia.
Velasquez faces up to 30 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged.

PHOTO of Alica Marie Medina-Kaplan courtesy of the DMV.

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Officials: Death of man along Azusa Avenue in East Valinda appears natural

EAST VALINDA >> Foul play is not suspected in the death of a 51-year-old man whose body was found along Azusa Avenue late Saturday, authorities said.
Officials received a report about 10 p.m. that a man had been found unresponsive in front of a business in the 300 block of Azusa Avenue, just south of Temple Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. James Beamon said. The man, described as a transient, was believed to have been sleeping there.
Paramedics arrived on-scene and tried to treat the man, but he was ultimately pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m., the lieutenant said.
“It appears to be natural causes,” Beamon said.
Investigators from the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner will perform an autopsy.

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Clerk aids in arrest of West Valinda robbery suspect

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WEST VALINDA — An alleged stun gun-wielding would-be robber was behind bars Wednesday with help from a gas station clerk who fought him off and ripped away his mask, exposing the robber’s face to surveillance cameras during a failed heist earlier this month, officials said.
Deputies arrested Eddie Gonzalez, 56, of La Puente Friday in connection with the March 4 robbery at a Mobile station at Valley Boulevard and Alderton Avenue in the unincorporated county area of West Valinda, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt/ Bob Boese said Wednesday in a written statement.
Prosecutors at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed charges of robbery, assault, vandalism and petty theft against Gonzalez, the sergeant said.
Gonzalez wore a bandana over his face and a sweat shirt hood over his head when he entered the gas station about 6:30 p.m. March 4, Boese said. He brandished a stun gun and demanded money from the clerk.
As the clerk collected cash from the register, Gonzalez pressed the stun gun against the clerk’s body and tried to jolt him, officials said.
“The clerk, seeing his opportunity, began to fight with the suspect,” Boese said. “During the struggle, the clerk was able to tear away the bandana covering the suspect’s face and pull off the shirts worn by the suspect. This enabled the store video cameras to capture video of the suspect.”
The clerk then ran from the gas station, locking Gonzalez inside, Boese said. Gonzalez drank several beers from the store’s cooler before smashing a window to flee.
Aided by the surveillance camera footage, which provided clear images of the robber, detectives identified Gonzalez as a suspect in the crime and arrested him on pre-existing warrants Friday, according to sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
Gonzalez was being held without bail pending a scheduled appearance Thursday in West Covina Superior Court, according to booking records.

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