Monday, May 21, 2018

San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office MADD 2018 Prosecutor of the Year

Deputy District Attorney Jack Liu’s work this year has had a significant and lasting impact on the quality and success of DUID prosecutions throughout San Bernardino County. As our OTS/DUID grant prosecutor, Jack embarked on a yearlong campaign to provide training for our entire office on how to effectively prosecute DUID trials. His training is available on video and will be used to train a steady stream of new prosecutors every year.

He also provided our office’s first POST-certified 72-hour DRE training class, presented free of charge, to over 40 of our local law enforcement officers. Because of Jack’s dedication and hard work, we have a full contingent of prosecutors who have the knowledge and skills to effectively present a DUID trial, and we have substantially increased the number of law enforcement officers who can testify as fully certified DREs. Jack’s approach has inspired countless prosecutors and law enforcement officers to be the best they can be when it comes to DUID investigations and prosecutions. He has encouraged our prosecutors to take up the challenge of DUID trials, especially marijuana DUIDs, which are increasing at an exponential rate due to Prop. 64.

Jack’s efforts to combat DUID don’t stop there. He conducted many other law enforcement trainings throughout the year, coordinated an on-call prosecutor system to assist in major DUI cases, and held our county’s first SoCal OTS Regional Roundtable. The Roundtable brought together over 30 SoCal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and criminalists for training and strategic planning on how to more effectively fight intoxicated driving statewide. And he did all this while personally handling a caseload of serious felony DUI cases.

Jack’s extraordinary commitment to strong and effective enforcement of DUI and DUID laws has earned him the title of MADD’s 2018 Prosecutor of the Year.

District Attorney’s Office urges opposition to Kevin Cooper’s request for clemency

Thirty-three years ago, a San Diego County jury convicted Kevin Cooper of the brutal murders of Doug Ryen, Peggy Ryen, 10-year-old Jessica Ryen, 11-year-old Chris Hughes, and the attempted murder of 8-year-old Josh Ryen.

Cooper’s case was reviewed in detail by the California Supreme Court, who determined the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office agreed in 2001 to give Cooper the benefit of post-conviction DNA testing. Cooper’s own DNA expert participated in the selection of the items to be tested. The defense expert selected items that he represented had the best chance of excluding Cooper as the perpetrator of these horrific crimes.

DNA testing was conducted in 2001 and 2002. Although Cooper’s defense team claimed the DNA testing would show his innocence, it proved the exact opposite. Rather than exonerating Cooper, the results of the testing proved Cooper was in the Ryen home at the time of the murders, that he smoked cigarettes in their station wagon after he stole it, and that his blood and the blood of at least one victim was on a t-shirt found by the side of a road leading away from the murders.

Cooper’s execution was stayed in 2004 because he represented once again that a simple scientific test, and further examination of some of the evidence, would show he was innocent. Again, Cooper was given the benefit of additional scientific testing and expert examination of physical evidence collected in the case.

Despite Cooper’s claims that these tests and examination would demonstrate his innocence, a reviewing judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California determined that Cooper alone was responsible for these terrible murders.

“The guilt or innocence of any defendant charged with murder should be determined by a jury in a court of law where the rules of evidence apply, not by an uninformed or deliberately misleading editorial in the New York Times,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos.

Cooper now requests that “Touch DNA” testing be performed on one of the murder weapons, the hatchet, the hatchet sheath, the t-shirt and the prison button. These items were all collected by law enforcement, examined by experts and entered into evidence at trial. They were sent into the deliberation room without restriction, as the trial took place decades before the advent of Touch DNA testing. The hatchet, button and t-shirt were subjected to serological testing in 1983-84 and DNA testing in 2002. Additionally, the hatchet and protective sheath were touched by the owners of the hideout house, their families, visitors and guests whenever the hatchet was used to chop firewood. Consequently, many people have touched the exhibits outside of laboratory conditions. DNA data bases, unlike fingerprint data bases, contain the profiles of certain convicted felons, but not law-abiding citizens. Therefore, Touch DNA testing cannot provide relevant information in this case and cannot exonerate Cooper as claimed. It’s simply another attempt to avoid punishment.

Laws and procedures afford convicted defendants the opportunity to request post-conviction DNA testing. Cooper has already received the benefit of post-conviction scientific testing several times. Each time the testing has shown his claims of innocence are false and instead confirm the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

“The families of the victims and the surviving victim have waited patiently for thirty-five years for justice in this case,” said District Attorney Ramos. “They have endured not only the loss of their loved ones, but also the repeated and false claims from Cooper and his propaganda machine designed to undermine public confidence in the just verdict.”

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office is opposed to any clemency or further testing for Cooper based on continued distortions and misrepresentations of the facts in this case, and asks California Governor Edmund G. Brown to respect the decisions of the jury, trial judge, California Supreme Court, United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom have concluded that the evidence in this case overwhelmingly demonstrates Cooper’s guilt. Further delay only mocks the criminal justice system and the victims and their families in their long-lasting grief, as well as the will of the voters who enacted Proposition 66.

Today, the District Attorney’s Office is filing a formal opposition to Kevin Cooper’s request for clemency with the Governor’s Office. The entire document will be released by the District Attorney’s Office later this week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Two gang members sentenced to life for senseless shooting murder

Two criminal street gang members were each sentenced Monday to 50 years to life in state prison for the shooting murder of Guy Estrada who was riding his bicycle in Fontana. After being shot, the victim was left to die in the middle of the road.

Aureliano Mendez, 21, and David Avina, 29, both of Fontana, were each found guilty April 2, 2018, of one count of first degree murder and one count of street terrorism. The jury also found true firearm and criminal street gang allegations.

“I am proud of the work our Gang Unit is doing every day to hold these local terrorists responsible for their actions,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos. “With the help of all our law enforcement partners and the Board of Supervisors, we will continue our fight. We won’t back down.”

Since the Gang Unit’s inception in July 2005, 11,560 cases have been filed; 3 on death row; 7,195 state prison commitments; 53,956 years + 322 life terms in state prison; 3,458 gang enhancements have been found true and 458 were found guilty by jury trial.

The sentencing of Mendez and Avina today raises the number of life terms to 324 life terms.

Statement of Facts

On April 26, 2015, Victim Guy Estrada, 35, was riding his bicycle in the City of Fontana when he was shot and killed. Four days later, Avina led Fontana Police Department officers on a dangerous pursuit from Fontana to San Bernardino, accompanied by his passenger, Mendez, in his Lexus sedan. Avina and Mendez were wanted in connection with a separate murder out of Fontana, believed to be gang-related and involving the Lexus sedan, based on an April 19, 2015 incident.

According to Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Robbins, who prosecuted the case, officers located a SKS rifle in the trunk of Avina’s vehicle. Mendez and Avina were taken into custody on the April 19 case.

“During trial, it was noted that both defendants wanted to shoot the victim, a random man on a bike,” said Deputy District Attorney Robbins.

Mendez indicated that Avina first shot at the victim but missed before they ultimately pursued him in Avina’s Lexus, while the victim “rode for his life” on the bicycle. Mendez also noted that he held the steering wheel so that Avina could shoot and kill the victim.

Deputy District Attorney Robbins added that the defendant Mendez described how he and Avina laughed about the incident, before driving around the block to ensure the victim was dead. The other case for both defendants is still pending. 

Other Notable Information Related to Gang Unit

California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program

Last year, as part of the California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program (CalWRAP), our office assisted in the relocation of 24 total witnesses and family members. Eight of those cases were gang-related.

In one notable case, the defendant was living with his father and other family members, including four minor children. The defendant, a gang member, stabbed his elderly father multiple times while the father’s grandson watched. The father died as a result of this attack. Another of the four children saw the defendant after the attack, walking through the residence with blood on him and carrying a bloody knife.

First Quarter Gang Stats

The latest gang statistics for the first quarter of 2018 have been compiled by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Statistics for the quarter of Jan. 1, 2018, through March 31, 2018, show that 100 cases were filed from all divisions. There were 116 state prison commitments obtained with a total of 1,024 years of state prison and 10 life terms. 71 gang enhancements were found true and 10 were found guilty by jury trial.

Two sentenced for fake crash insurance fraud

A Fontana man and woman were sentenced Friday for their role in a scheme to rip off insurance companies by staging a hit-and-run accident involving a 2015 Maserati. Roger Mendoza, 50, was sentenced to 240 days in county jail, three years felony probation, and ordered to pay $12,937 in restitution to the Automobile Club of Southern California, after pleading guilty to felony insurance fraud.

Violeta Alcaraz, 38, was sentenced to 120 days in county jail and three years felony probation, after pleading guilty to felony insurance fraud and misdemeanor filing a false police report.

Statement of Facts

In May 2016, RM Capital—a used car dealership owned by Mendoza—purchased a damaged 2015 Maserati Ghibli for $39,750. An August 4, 2016 sales contract showed the Maserati being sold to Violeta Alcaraz for $63,000. On August 24, 2016, Ms. Alcaraz filed an insurance claim with the Automobile Club of Southern California reporting that another car struck the Maserati in an intersection and fled.

Insurance investigators suspected fraud after examining the Maserati and referred the matter to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Automobile Insurance Fraud Unit.

District Attorney Investigators discovered that the Maserati was parked at the time of the damage, not at an intersection as claimed, and was repeatedly struck with a heavy object that transferred house paint onto the Maserati.

Investigators concluded that Mendoza, who lived in the same home as Alcaraz, purchased the damaged Maserati.

According to Deputy District Attorney Tom Colclough, who prosecuted the case, the defendant then made cosmetic repairs to hide the damage without repairing it, created a fictitious sale to Alcaraz, deliberately damaged the Maserati, and falsely claimed the damage occurred in a hit-and-run event.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Man who stabs and kills wife sentenced to prison

A San Bernardino man who stabbed and killed his wife was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison today.

In Nov. 2017, a jury found 56-year-old Duane Magee (pictured left) guilty of Second Degree Murder and found true a knife allegation. The charges stem from a Sept. 2012 incident in which the defendant stabbed his wife 24 times because they were having marital problems.

According to Deputy District Attorney Melissa Monrreal, who prosecuted the case, Magee called 911 dispatch after stabbing his wife and told them he had just killed his wife because she was cheating on him.

“When asked whether the victim was dead, the defendant responded, ‘I’m hoping she’s dead,’” said Deputy DA Monrreal. 

Second gang member in murder case sentenced to life in prison

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A Pomona gang member was sentenced today to 200 years to life in prison for his role in the killing of 20-year-old Nestor Miranda of Montclair.

In December, a jury found 28-year-old Sergio Vidrio (pictured left) of Pomona, guilty of one count of Murder, one count of Attempted Murder, one felony count of Shooting at an Occupied Motor Vehicle, and one count of Possession of a Firearm by a Felon with Priors. The jury also found true multiple gun allegations as well as one Street Gang Terrorism allegation.

In December, a separate jury found 29-year-old Oscar Lopez (pictured below) guilty of the same charges and allegations. Lopez was sentenced to 151 years to life on Jan. 19, 2018.

The charges stem from a 2014 incident in which both defendants pulled up alongside another vehicle and asked the occupants: “Where you guys from?” Vidrio and Lopez, who were both wearing dark-colored bandanas covering their mouths and black gloves, immediately started shooting—killing Miranda and missing the other occupant of the vehicle.

This case was prosecuted by DDA David Collins and the West Valley Gang Unit and investigated by the Montclair Police Department, Ontario Police Department, and the Pomona Police Department.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Two defendants who murdered a Phelan man convicted

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Two men who lured a 58-year-old Phelan man from his motorhome to rob him have been convicted.
This case was tried to two juries simultaneously. On Wednesday, a jury found Jacob Bock (pictured left) guilty of Murder, First Degree Residential Robbery and First Degree Burglary, Person Present and found true one gun allegation. On April 4, a separate jury found Kyle Comrie (pictured below) guilty of Murder, First Degree Residential Robbery and First Degree Burglary, Person Present.

The crime dates back to 2015, when both defendants conspired to lure 58-year-old Louis Merrigan from his motorhome with the intent of robbing him.

According to Deputy District Kevin Christensen, who prosecuted the case, one defendant approached the motorhome and lured the victim out under the ruse of needing to use his cell phone because he crashed on his ATV. 

“Hiding in the shadows was the other defendant who initiated a violent attack with a baseball bat,” said Deputy District Attorney Christensen. “A handoff occurred allowing the other defendant to participate in the beating.”

After pummeling the victim for some time, the two defendants ransacked the motorhome and stole numerous items that included the victim's .22 rifle. As they were setting out to leave the property, Bock decided that he could not leave any witnesses behind, so he returned to the victim lying on the ground and shot him one time in the head.  

Ultimately, the investigation—which was overseen by Sergeant Mike Flores of the Victor Valley Sheriff Station—led to both defendants who confessed to the crimes. 

Bock faces 81 years to life and Comrie faces 25 years to life. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Convicted child molester sentenced to 110 years in prison

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.  – A San Bernardino man who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old victim in 2012 was sentenced Friday to 110 years in state prison for multiple counts.

On Feb. 26, a jury found 53-year-old Stanley Williams (pictured left) guilty of four felony counts of Lewd Act Upon a Child and one count of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse.

In 2012, the 13-year-old victim was living with her family at an apartment complex in San Bernardino. Later that year, the defendant—a convicted sex offender—moved into the same complex and asked the victim’s parents if the victim could come over periodically to clean his apartment in exchange for a few dollars and the family agreed.

According to Deputy District Attorney Alicia Long, who prosecuted the case, during this time, the defendant began grooming the victim.

“He started off by holding hands with the victim and telling her that he loved her,” said Deputy District Attorney Long. “His conduct escalated from there. The defendant convinced the victim that they were in a loving relationship and that he was her boyfriend.”

In 2013, the victim’s mother discovered inappropriate Facebook messages between Williams and the victim. The victim’s mother confronted the defendant and called the police. Williams was arrested by officers with the San Bernardino Police Department and later charged.

While the case was pending, the defendant went through numerous attorneys, sending letters to the victim and attempting to arrange for others to dissuade her from testifying.  

For the past five years the victim’s family appeared at nearly every court date waiting for justice for their daughter,” said Deputy District Attorney Long. “At trial, the victim showed great strength and courage in her testimony. Thanks to her resilience on the stand, this predator will never be able to hurt another child.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ontario man sentenced following prostitution sting conviction

A 42-year-old man was convicted Tuesday of attempting to pay for sexual acts during an undercover prostitution sting.

Defendant Poshen Wu was convicted of one misdemeanor count of Soliciting, Engaging or Agreeing to Engage in Prostitution by Providing Compensation.

During trial, it was noted that the defendant was searching on and decided to contact a prostitute for the “full experience.”

On the initial phone call he gave his name as "John" and arranged for the “full experience" at $100 for 30 minutes.

According to Deputy District Attorney Allison Fung, who prosecuted the case, once the defendant arrived at the correct hotel room, he wasted no time and leaped into the undercover deputy’s arms in an attempt to start the “full experience” by kissing her as soon as he walked into the room.

Wu was sentenced to 30 days in County Jail and 3 years of probation.