Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Last of three defendants sentenced in 90-year-old woman’s murder

On Sept. 15, 2005, Susan came home after work to find her mother, Josephine Kelley, dead at their home on Muscupiabe Street in the City of San Bernardino. 

Josephine Kelley was found on her bed, bound by masking tape and audio/visual cables. A pillowcase was over her head. The coroner overseeing this case, Dr. Frank Sheridan, noted that she had been struck in the head at least once and that Ms. Kelley had a bruise on her lips consistent with her being smothered or struck with a hard object. Dr. Sheridan concluded that Ms. Kelley was killed by homicidal asphyxiation. This was either an intentional smothering or positional asphyxiation because of the restrictions on her movement due to the bindings, pillowcase and the blows to the head.  

PICTURED: Safe found with victim's property
The house had been ransacked and various items of jewelry, rare and foreign coins and a large amount of quarters kept in liquor jars was missing, along with a semi-automatic rifle that belonged to Ms. Kelley’s grandson, Derrick.

The last person to see Ms. Kelley alive was in fact her grandson, Derrick, who lived with his mother and grandmother in the same house. 

During early interviews conducted by investigators, the name Sherry Beck was mentioned. She was identified as being at the house talking to Derrick within two hours of the crime. Beck was interviewed and initially said that police should look at a person later identified as Kiesha Smith who lived in an apartment complex where Beck recently lived.

After more information was developed, Beck was interviewed on three more occasions. She eventually confessed to detectives that she was angry at Derrick. Beck was in a car giving Kiesha Smith and her boyfriend—later identified as Michael Mitchell—a ride on the day before the murder. Beck said that Mitchell and Smith asked her if she knew any good burglary targets.

PICTURED: Rare and foreign money recovered 

According to Deputy District Attorney Andrew Turk, who prosecuted the case, Beck pointed out the Muscupiabe house and told Mitchell and Smith that it was a good place to burglarize and Derrick was a good target.

The day of the murder, Mitchell, Smith and Beck met and a plan was hatched for Beck to go to Derrick’s house and get him to leave so the house could be burglarized. Beck was also supposed to report back on whom else might have been home. Beck told detectives she went to the house and hung out with Derrick. She discovered that Josephine Kelley was home and Derrick was not interested in leaving. 
While Beck was at the house Kiesha Smith walked up the driveway and said she was looking for a lost cat. Beck told detectives that this was a ruse to find out what was taking Beck so long. Beck said she made hand gestures to Smith indicating that the plan should be called off due to Derrick and his grandmother being home. Smith left Beck and Derrick in the garage.

PICTURED: Stolen jewelry from suspect's house

Soon after, Derrick’s friend Chris arrived at the house and Beck left. Beck told detectives she encountered Mitchell and Smith driving a dark SUV on the way home and told them that the plan should be abandoned. Derrick and Chris left with Derrick telling his grandmother goodbye. Ms. Kelley was discovered dead by Susan approximately one and a half hours after Derrick and Chris left the house. 
In Oct. 2005, a search warrant was served at the house of Michael Mitchell’s mother in Rialto. Many items of jewelry and rare coins identified as coming from the Muscupiabe house were found in a bedroom Mitchell and Smith shared, as well as in a dark SUV registered to Smith. Police also found that two days after the murder, Michael Mitchell had sold a large amount of jewelry from the scene of the crime at a pawnshop in Fontana.

PICTURED: Jewelry from pawn shop

Smith was arrested for a probation violation and Mitchell was arrested for receiving stolen property. While Smith was in custody, she told another inmate that she was actually in custody for a robbery where a lady had died. She said that the lady wouldn’t stop struggling and that she had put a pillowcase over the lady’s head. She also noted that Mitchell had hit the lady until she stopped screaming and fighting and that they had stolen jewelry and rare coins and put them in Smith’s vehicle. 

Kesha Williams—who lived at the house with Mitchell, Smith and Mitchell’s mother—said that Smith mentioned she and Mitchell had been involved some residential burglaries and the last one “went bad.”

Mitchell’s mother, Theresa, came forward in 2013, and told detectives about some incidents at her house in the fall of 2005. Theresa said the first incident involved overhearing Smith talking about a burglary where the person was yelling and fighting and Mitchell told Smith to put a pillowcase over her head. Smith also was talking about Mitchell hitting the victim to keep her quiet. 

The second incident Theresa talked about was Smith coming home and crying. Smith told Theresa that “the lady died,” that Smith didn’t know the lady was dead. Finally, Theresa said she walked in on Mitchell describing an incident where Mitchell had to hit a woman to keep her quiet. Theresa also reported seeing large jars of quarters in the garage prior to the search warrant being served at her house.

“There were some common themes across the victim impact statements given by Ms. Kelley’s daughter, son and daughter in law at each sentencing,” said DDA Turk. “There was the disbelief that a group of people in their early twenties couldn’t have just burglarized the house without assaulting an elderly person and causing her death. And then they all expressed how horrible it was that a sweet, kind lady had spent her last moments in terror.”

Sherry Beck pled to various charges including voluntary manslaughter and robbery in exchange for a 17-year sentence and an agreement to testify truthfully at Mitchell and Smith’s trial. Beck was sentenced Aug. 28 in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Michael Mitchell was convicted of First degree murder with special circumstances for a murder committed during the course of a robbery and a burglary and sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole on Aug. 19.

Kiesha Smith was convicted of First Degree murder with special circumstances for a murder committed during the course of a robbery and a burglary and was sentenced May 12 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In The News: 3 charged in shooting of San Bernardino Police Officer Gabriel Garcia

SAN BERNARDINO >> Attempted murder of a peace officer and firearms possession charges were filed Tuesday against three men in connection with Friday’s shooting of San Bernardino Police Officer Gabriel Garcia, who remains comatose and in critical condition.

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos announced the filing of charges against Jonathan Contreras, 20, Gonzalo Medina, 22, and Orlando Cruz, 24, all of San Bernardino, during a news conference at the San Bernardino Police Department. All three were arrested following the gun battle that occurred in the 1900 block of Garner Avenue shortly after 2 a.m. Friday.

Each of the three men is charged with two counts of attempted murder of a peace officer and one count of possession of an assault rifle. They are scheduled to be arraigned today in San Bernardino
Superior Court.

Garcia’s assailant, 38-year-old Alex Alvarado, was shot by Garcia’s unnamed rookie partner — whom Garcia was training —during the gun battle, and later died at the hospital, authorities said.

The three men charged Tuesday were with Alvarado and two women at the time of the shooting, police said.

“The District Attorney’s Office wants to make very clear, if you aid and abet or are involved in a conspiracy in the assault or shooting of a peace officer, we will hold you accountable, even if you don’t pull the trigger,” Ramos said.

He said an investigation continues into whether the suspects had gang ties. If so, the charges will be amended to include gang enhancements.

Police said Alvarado was a career criminal and longtime member of a Redlands street gang.

All three suspects face life in prison if convicted, Ramos said. Should Garcia die, Ramos said the charges against the three men could be changed to murder of a peace officer.

Garcia and his partner were on patrol Friday when they spotted a group of people hanging out in the 1900 block of Garner Avenue shortly after 2 a.m. They approached the group when Alvarado, reportedly brandishing a Taurus .38 Special 5-shot revolver and a Ratmil AK-47 assault rifle, began firing on the officers. Garcia was shot once in the head. His partner drew his gun and shot Alvarado during the gun battle, police said.

Both guns were on display during Tuesday’s news conference. The barrel of the assault rifle was sawed off and wrapped in a black bandanna. Two 30-round magazines for the AK-47 were also on display.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In the News: Lead prosecutor passionate about law

Lead prosecutor passionate about law
Terry Brown works in his office in the Joshua Tree courthouse. Brown oversees deputy district attorneys prosecuting cases in the Morongo Basin.

By Alexis Cubit Hi-Desert Star | Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 7:00 pm
From the time he was a little boy watching his father as a peace officer, Terry Brown has been passionate about a career in law.
Brown’s first experience with the court environment came in high school, where he participated in a moot court-like program where students took part in simulated cases. Brown enjoyed it so much, he studied law at Southern California College, now Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, and went on to attend McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. While in law school, he clerked for a district attorney’s office and the department of corrections.
Trial advocacy allowed Brown to be a prosecutor in a mock criminal trial, using members of the community as the jury. The deeper Brown got into the field, the greater his desire to practice law became.
Some of his most memorable cases came from his five-year stint in Central San Bernardino, where he handled the homicide unit. In late 2011 when he prosecuted a cold case from 1989 where a woman was violently killed and left on the side of the road on Highway 38. With new technologies and DNA evidence, the defendant was brought to trial and convicted of first-degree murder.
Brown spent nearly 17 years with San Bernardino before being promoted to supervising district attorney for the Morongo Basin office in Joshua Tree last June.
Despite a heavy workload, Brown believes the cooperation of everyone in the office makes it easier.
Click here to continue reading the story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

IN THE NEWS: Minister is on a mission to save girls from prostitution

Pastor Paula Daniels at the Well, a drop-in center where she counsels underage prostitutes in Lynwood. Daniels divides her time between L.A., Orange and San Bernardino counties. (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

Steve Lopez
Los Angeles Times

It was just after 3 p.m. in San Bernardino, 99 hellish degrees and counting, as two working girls walked along Baseline Street. They appeared to be somewhere between 16 and 19, about the same as the other females working the track in a city boxed in by freeways that deliver an endless convoy of johns.

"Can you imagine that they're put out here in this heat?" asked Pastor Paula Daniels.

Pastor Paula's mission is to rescue girls and young women from the clutches of human traffickers.

She and her posse from Forgotten Children, which runs Rachel's House of Healing in San Bernardino, take to the streets to let the prostitutes know there's a way out.

But breaking free isn't easy. The prostitutes are generally controlled by pimps, and the business is often a gang enterprise, Pastor Paula said. A San Bernardino vice officer I spoke to ran out of breath ticking off the long list of implements — from pliers to curling irons — prostitutes have been tortured with by pimps to keep them in line or to punish them for trying to run.

This is big money, said Pastor Paula, with social media making it easier for johns to find what they're looking for. And the gangs long ago discovered a basic principle regarding illicit trades.

"You can sell a dime bag of drugs only once, but you can sell a 14-year-old girl 10 or 15 times a night."

Prostitution and organized trafficking are as old as time, but lately public officials are looking at prostitutes — especially minors — as victims rather than perpetrators. Orange County officials have just announced a doubling of arrests for trafficking in the last two years, and Los Angeles County officials have rolled out social service strategies to steer girls out of the business.

San Bernardino County, meanwhile, has launched a strategy of all-out war on the trade.

"It's faith-based, it's county departments, it's mental health, education," said Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos. "We came up with … the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation … to help girls get through and transition out. When these girls were being let out of juvenile hall, guess who was picking them up. It was the human traffickers. The pimps. So we had to fix this."

The county offered diversion services to 77 under-age girls in 2013, and the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit has sent 17 predators to state prison, with 28 more cases pending trial, according to the district attorney's office.

Chris Lee, the D.A.'s public affairs officer, produced a documentary called "Teenage $ex 4 $ale." Nominated for a regional Emmy, it's used as a training film for officers and prosecutors. And Ramos has posted the photos of 30 convicted johns on the D.A. website, with 156 defendants awaiting trials that could land their mugs in the gallery as well.

But Ramos said a key piece of the strategy involves the spiritual rehabilitation of girls who are often on the run from abusive families when they're scooped up by traffickers who methodically groom them and ultimately enslave them.

"We can't do this without the Pastor Paulas of the world," Ramos says. "We need that help on the spiritual side, because it helps replace all of the horrendous, horrible situations some of the girls have been through."

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Back to School

Did you know 82% of prisoners in America are
high school dropouts? Our youth need a good education and they can’t get
it if they’re not in school.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Congratulations to Deputy District Attorney Christine Masonek and everybody who worked on this case: Randy Ortis gets 99 years to life for shooting outside Redlands bar

By Kristina Hernandez, Redlands Daily Facts

The sentence was delivered in West Valley Superior Court by Judge Victor Stull after victim impact statements were read by the mother and sister of Kruze Levusi Kuaea, who was killed in the shooting.
Both women described Kuaea as a happy-go-lucky 22-year-old who was a role model to his siblings and a person that they could always count on.

“Kruze was the type of person who would walk out of a restaurant with food to go and give it to a homeless person,” said the Calimesa man’s mother, Maricia McClendon, as she wiped tears from her face. “I believe everything happens for a reason and God is in charge. And if Kruze dying means that someday you will find salvation and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, then his death was not in vain.”

McClendon looked at Ortis as she read her statement and said that the shooting not only changed her family, but his as well.

“I forgive your actions and hope you find salvation,” she said. “My heart goes out to your mom.”

The victim’s sister, Jasmine Kuaea, spoke briefly, echoing her mother’s remarks.

Prior to the sentencing, Stull said the proceedings were difficult for all involved and his decision did not come lightly.

“I agree with Kruze’s mother that nobody wins,” he said. “I want everyone to know that I take this very seriously from both sides of the table.”

Ortis, 25, was found guilty May 13 in San Bernardino Superior Court of the shooting that left Kuaea dead and two others wounded. Jurors took less than three hours to deliberate. Stull was the trial judge, and the case followed him to a Rancho Cucamonga courtroom.

Charges included first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault with a firearm.

City cameras pointed at the downtown bar’s front entrance captured the shooting and Ortis was arrested in San Bernardino on Nov. 26, days after Redlands police had released surveillance footage shot outside the tavern.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

District Attorney Ramos Releases Quarterly Gang Stats

Gang members arrested during gang suppression sweep in Rialto.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.  – The latest gang statistics for the second quarter of 2014 have been compiled by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Statistics for the quarter of April 1, 2014, through June 30, 2014, show that 162 cases were filed from all divisions. There were 110 state prison commitments obtained with a total of 1,928 years of state prison. Ninety-nine gang enhancements were found true and 12 were found guilty by jury trial.

Since the Gang Program’s inception in July 2005, 8,855 cases have been filed; 2 on death row; 4,934 state prison commitments; 38,683 + 257 life terms years in state prison; 2,351 gang enhancements have been found true and 340 were found guilty by jury trial.

“I have made the investigation and prosecution of criminal gang members in San Bernardino County a top priority, and I will continue to do so alongside our partners in law enforcement," District Attorney Michael Ramos said. "From the senseless murders to the drive-by-shootings and drug trafficking we see on our streets across the county, we will continue to chip away at the gang infrastructure by prosecuting this criminal behavior to the fullest extent of the law.”

Quick Facts

  • In 2009, DA Ramos was invited to speak at the White House and present our Gang Protocol.
  • The Gang Unit (countywide) currently consists of 20 attorneys, 3 Victim Advocates, 3 Investigators, and 7 clerical positions.
  • Investigators from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office participate in the county-wide specialized Inland Empire taskforce known as SMASH (San Bernardino Movement Against Street Hoodlums).
  • Last year, as part of the California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program (CalWRAP), our office assisted in the relocation of 48 total witnesses and family members from 18 cases.
  • Fifteen of those cases were gang-related.
  • In one notable case, a witness had just finished hosting a children’s party at his house when a confrontation involving two gang members occurred outside the residence. During the confrontation, the witness—who is not a gang member or someone who even associates with gang members—was shot in the stomach and then struck in the head repeatedly with a handgun.
  • In 2007, District Attorney Ramos launched the Gang Injunction Unit (GIU) as another phase of the countywide crackdown on gangs.
  • There are currently five permanent injunctions in the cities of Rialto, Colton, Adelanto and Rancho Cucamonga. To see a listing of each injunction and download maps of the Safety Areas, visit http://ow.ly/zsO8F
  • For a listing of recent High Profile gang cases and booking photos, visit: http://ow.ly/zsONG
  • In San Bernardino County, we are taking steps with our partners in education to keep kids in school and out of trouble, and out of gangs. One such program is the Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (GRIP).
  • GRIP has a presence in the Rialto Unified, Rancho Cucamonga and High Desert school districts. To date, there have been over 3,300 graduates countywide.
  • For more information visit: http://ow.ly/zsOBN

Students in the Rialto Unified School District show off their GRIP certificates.

YouTube Videos

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Ongoing Fight Against Gangs: Ramos lauds progress, 87% conviction rate

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos speaks about gangs at the Victorville Rotary Club luncheon at the Green Tree Clubhouse in Victorville on Tuesday. DAVID PARDO, DAILY PRESS

San Bernardino County’s gang problem ranks among the worst in the nation, but county District Attorney Mike Ramos says progress is being made.

Speaking at the Barstow Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Hampton Inn in Lenwood on Tuesday morning and then at the Victorville Rotary Club luncheon at the Green Tree Golf Course clubhouse, Ramos said only Los Angeles County and Cook County in Illinois have more gang members than San Bernardino County.

However, Ramos said his office continues to work to contain that problem. He said since he took office in 2003, he has expanded the number of county gang
prosecutors from three to 20. And the DA’s conviction rate has increased from 60 percent to 87 percent, which leads the state. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties rank second in conviction rate at 80 percent, he said.

“We’re not going to stop,” said Ramos. “People across the country look at our protocol to fight gangs as a national model. People are looking at it and copying it.”

Since 2005, Ramos said his office has prosecuted about 5,000 gang cases. More than 200 have resulted in life prison sentences, and two convicted gang members are now on death row.

“(Then Sheriff Gary) Penrod and I in 2005 came up with this protocol and
plan,” he said. “We said we are going to increase our gang prosecution unit, and put in a gang suppression unit that’s bigger and better than anywhere else.”

Besides increasing the number of deputy district attorneys committed to prosecuting gang crimes, Ramos also has increased clerical support, as well as the number of victims advocates and investigators. The DA’s office has worked hand-in-hand with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department too, and has focused on improving witness and victim protection, he said.

Ramos said the keys to getting gang members off the street are utilizing gang enhancements when charging defendants, making sure prosecutors make note of prior convictions for violent crimes or gun use and seeking and taking advantage of gang injunctions. The latter can be used for neighborhoods or entire cities.

“We can get rid of the gang and give the neighborhood back to the community,” Ramos said. “We can have a curfew on them, say what they can and cannot wear, who they can and cannot see” and even put restrictions on tattoos.

“We have some gang injunctions in Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville,” he said. “They work with gangs that are territorial and we’re going to keep doing it.”

By using gang enhancements during prosecution, Ramos said prison sentences can be dramatically lengthened — and the gang members must be sent to state prison.

“A gang allegation can add anywhere from 5 years to 25 years to a sentence,” he said. “Anybody who’s violent, uses a gun or is a gang member is going to state prison.”
Click here to read the rest of today's story in the Victorville Daily Press.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Congratulations to DA Investigators Beaty and Bremner who were promoted to Supervising DA Investigators Today

Bureau of Investigation Chief Mike Smith congratulates Investigator S. Beaty on his promotion.
Supervising DA Investigator E. Bremner pictured with Bureau of Investigation Chief Mike Smith following promotion ceremony.