Trial begins for Monrovia pair accused of slaying Sammantha Salas

BURBANK – More than two years after 16-year-old Sammantha Salas was gunned during a string of racially charged gang shootings in Monrovia, jury selection began Wednesday in the trial of two men charged with her murder.

“Well, it’s finally happening,” said Janette Chavez, Salas’ mother.

The teenager was shot to death by two masked gunman in January 2008 as part of what investigators believe was a string of retaliatory shootings between a black and Latino gangs in Monrovia.

Two cousins, 28-year-old Nickelis Blackwell and 24-year-old Rayshawn Blackwell, are accused of shooting Salas to death as she was walking with a friend near her father’s home in unincorporated Monrovia.

Chavez spent Monday waiting for a jury to be picked, and she said that based on the evidence she heard in the preliminary hearing, she hopes that jury convicts both Blackwells of murder.

“I want them in prison for the rest of their lives so another family doesn’t have to suffer the loss that we did,” Chavez said.

The trial was moved to Burbank last week because no courtrooms in Pasadena were prepared to handle a case that attorneys believe could last three weeks, prosecutors said.

A witness in the preliminary hearing for the Blackwells said the cousins confessed to the crime the night of the shooting.

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Crimestoppers

Jeanette Chavez has become a force for good in the community after the brutal slaying of her daughter Sammantha Salas in 2008. Not only has she reached out to other surviving family members of homicide victims, Chavez’s work was instrumental in getting Crimestoppers in Los Angeles County off the ground.

From Nathan McIntire’s story:

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Chavez helped create the Los Angeles County branch and hopes it encourages people to come forward with information on unsolved crimes.

“These cases need to be solved and now people have a tool to utilize to make an anonymous tip,” Chavez said. “There shouldn’t be any reason why they can’t get involved now.”

Sheriff Lee Baca and newly anointed Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck both praised Crime Stoppers, saying the program has proven effective wherever it’s been implemented.

“Over a half-million crimes have been solved because people were willing to pick up the phone,” Baca said.

The program began in Albuquerque in 1976 and has since spread to communities across the country, paying out more than $75 million in rewards, according Mark Speer, executive director of Crime Stoppers.

Tips can be called in, texted or e-mailed to Crime Stoppers, and the information is encrypted to keep the identities of tipsters secret.

Cash rewards of up to $1,000 are paid for information on crimes ranging “from vandalism to murder to terrorism,” said Speer. The program does not cost the county anything because the rewards are funded by donations, he added.

Speer said Chavez’s help in organizing and soliciting donations was instrumental to Crime Stoppers getting off the ground in Los Angeles.

“She’s certainly taken a very proactive stance and feels that the best way to honor her child is to help other families stop violent crime,” he said.

Police agencies from 25 different cities in the county are participating in the program, Baldwin Park, Covina, El Monte, Monrovia, South Pasadena and Whittier.

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Prelim in Sammantha Salas case set for Tuesday afternoon in Alhambra

The two men accused of gunning down Sammantha Salas in an unincorporated portion of Monrovia will appear in court this afternoon where evidence will be presented in the case.

I’ll update as information becomes available.
Here’s a link to coverage of the gang-related shooting that plagues Monrovia in late 2007 and early 2008.
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Reward in Salas case doubled

From reporter Nathan McIntire:

MONROVIA – A reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for killing Sammantha Salas has been increased to $20,000, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich announced Tuesday.

Salas, 16, was fatally shot on Peck Road near Longdon Avenue in the unincorporated area of Monrovia on January 26.

The two suspects in the slaying are described as African-Americans in their late 20′s wearing dark-colored bandanas or hooded sweatshirts. The suspects are believed to be members of the Du Roc Crips gang.

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