Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

POST BY DISTRICT ATTORNEY MICHAEL RAMOS: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month


Right now you're reading this post. Maybe you're in an abusive relationship. Maybe you know a friend or family member who is in a potentially dangerous situation. Either way, the main point I hope to convey is that help is available.

Last year our office filed 3,038 cases across the county that were related to domestic violence. Sadly, 11 cases involved murder.

Too often, our victims of domestic violence are scared to come forward. Scared to make the phone call. Scared of retribution by their abuser. Scared of the unknown that lies on the other side of their current situation. These are all valid feelings, but it’s important to point out that nobody deserves to be a victim. Nobody. And if children are involved we need to consider the tragic impact that domestic violence has on them.

At the end of last year we saw a terrible case come to light in which 28-year-old Ashley Atherley was beat and stabbed to death by her husband, Edly Atherley, who had a history of domestic violence. I still remember standing on the steps of the San Bernardino Police Department beside Ashley’s parents and vowing to seek justice not only for Ashley but for her two little girls who are left without a mother and her family members.

When it comes to fighting for our victims and seeking justice, fortunately, our attorneys in the Family Violence Unit, who are all specially trained to deal with these types of crimes, feel the same way.

Sadly, we see these types of cases far too often across the county. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It affects all walks of life, and women are not the only ones who are victims. I started this post by saying maybe you're in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, so my charge to you today is to pick up the phone and take action before it's too late.

Call 911 if you are in immediate danger. Call our victim advocates who are available to help. Call a friend or someone you trust because no one deserves to be a victim.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Riverside woman sentenced in Ontario killing, dismembering case


SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A 54-year-old Riverside woman convicted of stabbing to death and dismembering her boyfriend was sentenced today to 26 years-to-life in state prison.

Carmen Montelongo was arrested in 2011 after being discovered pushing a trash can down the street that contained the body parts of her 62-year-old boyfriend, Samuel Wiggins. On Aug. 29, after three days of deliberations, a jury found Montelongo guilty of First Degree Murder.

"We are pleased that the jury saw the case for what it was—a heinous crime—and that justice was served for the victim and his family,” said Deputy District Attorney Erica Gallegos, who prosecuted this case.

Statement of Facts

Samuel Wiggins, 62, of Diamond Bar, had last been seen alive in April 2011. Reported missing by his family, investigators turned their attention to longtime girlfriend, Carmen Montelongo. Several weeks later, on May 29, 2011, Montelongo was caught by the Ontario Police Department moving some of Samuel Wiggins’ remains in a trash can down a residential neighborhood in Ontario.

During the weeks that investigators were conducting a missing person’s investigation, Montelongo delayed police action by claiming that she was in regular contact with Wiggins. However, it was during this period that Montelongo had dismembered his body, placing the head and arms in potted plants that were later located in Bell Gardens. The legs and torso were buried in Ontario at a residence where Montelongo was finally discovered and apprehended.

During the weeks leading up to her arrest Montelongo had been living in Wiggins’ home and using his accounts, continuing to draw attention from law enforcement. Her attempt to elude police led her to exhume Wiggins’ remains in Ontario on May 29.

Subsequent investigation by the Ontario Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would show that Wiggins was stabbed to death in his home in Diamond Bar. The victim was stabbed twice in the chest and 22 times in the back. His body was severely decomposed and dismembered. The crime scene had been significantly cleaned, with carpet and tile removed to hide the evidence.

Friday, September 5, 2014

District Attorney’s Office Releases Video to Combat Cockfighting in San Bernardino County


SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.  The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office released a short video today to raise attention about the increasing problem of cockfighting in San Bernardino County and the negative effects that it has on communities. The 4-minute video spotlights the recent raid of a cockfighting breeding facility conducted by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Animal Cruelty Task Force in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Cockfighting is a criminal blood sport between two roosters (also known as gamecocks), that are outfitted with steel blades on their legs and forced to fight one another in a violent death match.
“Once again we are faced with a situation in which hundreds of animals were being subjected to terrible living conditions,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said. “When so many birds are placed in a small area like this, it’s not only harmful to the health of the birds, but it creates an ideal environment for diseases to be spread. Whether it’s a facility that is breeding birds for future fights or a location where the actual fighting is taking place, cockfighting is a clear threat to community safety, and it will not be tolerated in this county.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Receives Outstanding Advocacy in Capital Litigation Honor and Recalls Murder Trials

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch was recently awarded the Outstanding Advocacy in Capital Litigation Award by the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation (AGACL).

The presentation took place on Aug. 20 in San Diego at the 35th Annual AGACL Conference.

Mr. Bulloch is currently a Supervising Deputy District Attorney in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s West Valley Division. He has been a deputy since Oct. 1998. Prior to his current assignment, he was assigned to the Major Crimes Unit prosecuting homicide and death penalty cases. From 2010 until August of 2013 he served as the Office Death Penalty Coordinator, where he monitored capital cases on appeal from San Bernardino County.

Mr. Bulloch has personally tried to verdict twenty-five homicide cases including four capital murder cases.  He has completed four separate capital death penalty trials.  


People v. Gregory Whiteside  

Shawana Andrews and her 18-month-old daughter, Brittany Andrews
Gregory Whiteside killed his ex-girlfriend, Shawana Andrews and her 18-month-old daughter, Brittany Andrews, in a particularly brutal fashion. Whiteside stabbed his ex-girlfriend repeatedly in the neck, throat and back. He then used the knife to saw deep into young Brittany’s neck causing her death.

The trial was continued for a number of years until it was assigned to Mr. Bulloch. He was able to aggressively move the case forward to trial. The guilt phase trial lasted for three weeks and the penalty trial lasted four weeks. Whiteside was eventually convicted of both murders and the jury returned a death verdict at the end of the penalty trial.  


Murder weapon used by Gregory Whiteside
“This was my first death penalty case,” said Bulloch. “It took ten years to get the case to trial.  And during trial I could not help but constantly think of how 18-month old Brittany would have developed into a young child and adult.  She was so cute.  The picture of her peeking around the doorway made my heart melt.  And then seeing the pictures of how Whiteside decapitated her out of a jealous rage gave me a life-changing exposure to real evil.” 

Brittany playing peek-a-boo
 
People v. Jonathan Holeman and Samuel Wright Jr. 

In 2011, Mr. Bulloch tried the case of People v. Holeman and Wright. The victims, 82-year-old John Painter and 54-year-old daughter Barbara Martin, hired the defendants to complete some home repairs on a vacation home in Lake Arrowhead. During this time, the defendants decided to rob them. They first attacked Mr. Painter and beat him to death with a hammer. However, they had a much more difficult time killing Ms. Martin, who fled upstairs. The defendants attempted to strangle her with a belt but she resisted. They next dragged her into the bathroom upstairs and tried to drown her in the bath tub, but she continued to struggle to stay alive. 

Finally they were able to place a plastic bag over her face and tighten it so that she suffocated as she struggled to stay alive. 

Victims John Painter and Barbara Martin
The defendants wrapped the victims in carpet and placed them in the basement of the house. Afterwards, they used the victims’ debit cards and checks to purchase pizza and beer and then invited friends over to the house to party. When the victims’ family did not hear from them they contacted law enforcement and the victims’ bodies were discovered. 

Due to their use of the victims’ credit cards and checks, the defendants eventually became suspects.

“I strongly identified with the victims in this case,” said SDDA Bulloch. “Mr. Painter reminded me of my grandfather who also suffered from dementia. There was absolutely no reason to brutally murder him, particularly the way they did. And Ms. Martin reminded me of my mother. Her struggle to fight back and live while these killers repeatedly tried to beat, strangle, choke, drown, and ultimately suffocate her, gave me nightmares. It remains very emotional to me.”  
The defendants were convicted of willful, deliberate and premeditated murder, robbery, burglary and the special circumstances of multiple murders. The penalty phase of the trial lasted three months. Both defendants received sentences of life without the possibility of parole at the conclusion of the proceedings.

People v. Rickie Fowler  
Firefighters battle Old Fire on hilltop
Mr. Bulloch tried People v. Rickie Fowler in 2012. In Sept. 2009, Fowler was arrested and charged with five counts of murder for the deaths of five victims ranging in age from 54 to 93.  These deaths occurred during the Old Fire–a wildfire started by the defendant on Oct. 25, 2003.  

The Old Fire was the second largest fire in California history after the Santiago Canyon Fire of 1889. The filing of criminal charges was the culmination of an investigation of the Old Fire. 

“Anyone who lived or worked in San Bernardino County in the fall of 2003 was directly impacted by this crime,” said SDDA Bulloch. “If you recall, there were dozens of other fires burning all over southern California at the time.  News coverage was overwhelming.  Then Fowler starts the Old Fire, which quickly eclipsed the other fires in both size and ferocity.”

Investigators determined that the defendant threw a lighted road flare into a dry and brittle hillside in the city of San Bernardino. The flames were fueled quickly by fierce Santa Ana winds. Within hours the winds had whipped the fire into a canyon into a storm that quickly funneled into the northern San Bernardino city neighborhoods and up into the mountains of San Bernardino. 


Deer in Flames
The fire ultimately burned for nine days until rain and snow curbed its intensity. By the time the fire was contained, over 91,000 acres burned in the San Bernardino National Forest and numerous neighborhoods, both in the mountains and down into the cities of San Bernardino, Highland, Del Rosa and Devore. Over a thousand homes and structures were burned and over a hundred and two thousand people had to be evacuated. The cost to the local community was over fifty million dollars.

“Whole neighborhoods and communities were turned upside down and some completely destroyed,” said SDDA Bulloch. “My family was evacuated for almost three weeks.  And over those days and weeks, as victim after victim died, it was as if we were all in a grand-scale disaster movie.”

During the course of the evacuation, the five victims died of heart attacks in the days after the fire started. The pathologist from the San Bernardino Coroner’s Office opined that each of the heart attacks were the result of the stress and strain of the evacuation.  


In June 2012, Mr. Bulloch commenced trial on the Fowler case.  He presented evidence and witness testimony for the next three and half months in the guilt phase as well as the penalty phase. Fowler was convicted of the murders of all five victims, and on Sept.  28, 2012, the jury recommended the penalty of death for Fowler’s crimes. On Jan. 28, 2013, in accordance with the jury recommendation, the judge sentenced Fowler to death. 

Firefighters fight to save a home consumed by the Old Fire
The death verdict was the result of many hours of work by Mr. Bulloch, during the week and on weekends.  He constantly met with his investigating officers and witnesses during this trial.  During the trial, he also had to deal with a witness who had to recall events when he was six years old, as well as reluctant witnesses who had to be impeached during the trial.

Through his hard work and determination, the appropriate and just result was reached and justice was served to the community of San Bernardino County as well as the deceased victims’ families.

“Years later, after Fowler was caught and charged, I could not get over how he seemed to relish the attention and the devastation he brought to the whole community,” said SDDA Bulloch.  

People v. John Wayne Thomson

Defendant John Wayne Thomson
Mr. Bulloch took on the case of People v. John Wayne Thomson in 2013. The defendant had met the victim Charles Hedlund at an off-ramp to a freeway in San Bernardino County. During what started as a consensual encounter, the defendant became upset with the victim and began stabbing him in the throat and face. After the defendant stabbed the victim to death, he stole his wallet and car.
The defendant was also responsible for killing two people in the State of Washington in unrelated crimes.

The guilt and penalty phase of that trial lasted four months. Thomson was eventually convicted of torture, and willful deliberate and pre-meditated murder. The jury determined the appropriate sentence to be death. 

Truck where the crime occurred
“John Wayne Thomson is why the death penalty is still relevant, appropriate, and needed,” SDDA Bulloch said. “He started out as a serial rapist.  He raped one woman and was released from jail.  Thereafter, he immediately raped and kidnapped another woman and went to prison.  And after being released for the second rape, he went out and violently raped a third woman.  After the third rape conviction, he was classified as a sexually violent predator.  He deliberately caused himself to be taken out of the SVP program by threatening patients and staff.

“Then after a collective 20 years in prison, he gets out, and starts robbing, carjacking and murdering. First he murders a 70-year-old man by throwing him in the trunk of his own car and then driving him around the desert to find a place to shoot him. Second, he brutally tortured and murdered a 36-year-old woman in order to take her car. Then he murders 54-year-old Charles Hedlund, who stopped to give him a ride when Thomson’s stolen car broke down. 

"After the murders, and while a nationwide manhunt is looking for him, he proceeds to attack and carjack three separate people before he is caught. 



Victim Charles Hedlund and his mother
“And even after being caught, charged with three separate murders, three separate carjackings, and facing life in prison or the death penalty, John Wayne Thomson solicited the murder of three additional people all while in custody at West Valley Detention Center.”

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.