Monday, December 5, 2016

Why the mother of a murdered Montclair girl is heaving a sigh of relief

By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun

NORWALK >> It was June 1996 when Jennifer Lundy stood in a Rancho Cucamonga courtroom, faced the man convicted of strangling her 3-year-old daughter, Brittany Lynn, and made him a promise: “You have to get through me before you get out of the prison door because I will always be here.”

Twenty years later, Lundy has kept her promise. After she and others spoke at Chuck Johnson’s hearing Wednesday at Chuckwalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, he was denied parole for the second time.

“I’m relieved,” Lundy said in a telephone interview. “The denial gives me and my children the chance to live our lives and honor Brittany. I couldn’t live with the fact if Chuck Johnson got out or another child ended up getting hurt because he preys on the vulnerable.”

On Oct. 10 1993, Lundy and her then-husband, Darin Riggs, awoke in their Montclair home and couldn’t find their daughter. Frantic, they called police and were horrified when her little body was found inside their home, in the closet of a room Johnson had been renting from the couple.

The autopsy showed Johnson suffocated little Brittany with her own baby blanket as he put pressure on her neck and chest, strangling her.

At trial, the San Bernardino County coroner testified it took at least 2 to 3 minutes of sustained pressure to kill Brittany.

In 2011, Brittany Lynn’s image appeared on a billboard of murder victims in El Monte to raise awareness about violence and victims’ rights.

Frightened Johnson would be paroled into a community near her home and her children’s schools, Lundy worked for more than a year gathering signatures and letters from people in an effort to keep Johnson behind bars.

“Why does his parole plan have him paroled in L.A.?” she asked. “I moved away when this all happened and he still has family in the area in La Verne. Why isn’t he being paroled there? Why L.A., where I am? I was terrified. I felt like he was threatening me and my family.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Lundy, Riggs, Brittany’s younger siblings who never knew their big sister and Connie S. Lasky, San Bernardino County deputy district attorney, all gave reasons why Johnson should not be allowed parole.

“He has still not told the truth about what has happened to poor little Brittany,” Lasky said. “Because he has not yet come to terms with what he did to her, because he’s not admitting what he did, he can’t be safe out in society.”

The parole board agreed, Lasky and Lundy said, and denied him parole for the next seven years.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

DATELINE: A Prosecutor's Moment

Prosecutor Sean Daugherty on his decision to demonstrate to the jury how Erin was killed. Click here to watch the video.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A Yucca Valley man was convicted today of the 2011 torture and burning death of his ex-girlfriend, Maria Banuelos.

A Rancho Cucamonga jury found 43-year-old Hector Meza guilty of one count of First Degree Murder, with the jury finding true the special circumstances that the murder was committed during the course or commission of Mayhem, that the murder was intentional and involved infliction of Torture, and that the defendant killed the victim by means of Lying in Wait.

The jury also found Meza guilty of one count of Aggravated Mayhem, one count of Torture, and one count of Arson Causing Great Bodily Injury.

On Oct. 22, 2011, officers from the Ontario Police Department arrived at an apartment complex and found residents administering aid to 34-year-old Banuelos, who was still on fire.

At the scene, the victim identified Hector Meza and three others as her attackers. While in the ambulance her dying words were: “Hector Meza set me on fire. He is abusive and obsessive.”

The Ontario resident was taken to a hospital where she died two days later.

It was later determined by the coroner that the victim had been hit on the head three times with something consistent of a metal bar prior to being set on fire.

Hours after the attack officers arrested Meza on suspicion of attempted murder.

“On this particular night, the victim was leaving her apartment,” said Deputy District Attorney Kent Williams, who prosecuted the case. “She left her apartment and shortly later her family heard screams. They exited the apartment and saw the victim engulfed in flames on the ground.”

Following the death of Banuelos, investigators arrested four other suspects linked to the brutal attack:

Robert Chico Zapata, 24, of San Bernardino
Johnny Eugene Hernandez, 23, (No Known Address)
Johnathan Zuniga, 28, of Rancho Cucamonga
Genese Ramirez Leon, 25, (No Known Address)

The four remaining defendants are scheduled back in court next month.

Meza is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 4, 2017. He faces Life in State Prison Without the Possibility of Parole.

Prosecutors and Investigators believe there may be more witnesses. If you or someone you know has information related to this case, please contact Lt. Langford at the Ontario Police Department at (909) 395-2001.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jury recommends death for Adelanto gang member convicted of 2009 double murder

James Ellis (Booking Photo)
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – A Victorville jury recommended death today for an Adelanto man convicted of the 2009 double slaying of 28-year-old Ealy Davis, Jr. and 26-year-old Shameka Reliford.

On Oct. 3, James Ellis, 28, was found guilty by a jury of two counts of First Degree Murder and one count of Active Participation in a Criminal Street Gang. Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait, murder during the commission of a robbery, murder while an active participant in a criminal street gang and multiple murder which made Ellis eligible for the death penalty.

Today, based on the evidence presented during the Penalty Phase, the jury recommended the death penalty.

“Seeking the death penalty is one of the single most difficult decisions I have to make, and it is reserved for the worst of the worst criminals,” said District Attorney Mike Ramos. “When we seek the death penalty, it is important to remember that it is not a reflection of our brutality, but rather an expression of our disdain for the defendant’s brutal actions.”

On Nov. 23, 2009, Ellis plotted with three other men and a woman to rob Ealy Davis:

Forrest Taylor, 29, of Los Angeles, was sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole May 14, 2013.

Sandra Smith, 36, of Adelanto, was sentenced to 18 years in state prison Feb. 6, 2012.

William Jacobs, 29, of Adelanto, was sentenced to 13 years, 8 months Feb. 19, 2016.

Joseph Bowen, 21, of Victorville was sentenced to probation for being an accessory after the fact Jan. 6, 2012.

On Nov. 23, 2009, Forrest Taylor, William Jacobs, Joseph Bowen and Sandra Smith were gathered at Smith's residence in Adelanto. During this gathering, there was discussion about a desire to acquire drugs and money. One of them suggested robbing a drug dealer. During the planning process, Ellis produced a handgun and showed it to the others. 

Smith then suggested they rob Davis, a drug dealer she knows. Smith knows Davis because Davis was currently dating her half-sister Shameka Reliford.

According to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes, who prosecuted the case, Smith provided Taylor with Davis' cell phone number. Several phone calls were placed to lure Mr. Davis to a secluded area near Westside Park Elementary School.

At the agreed-upon meeting place, Ellis approached Davis’ car. Davis was seated in the driver's seat and Shameka Reliford was in the right front passenger seat. Two other passengers were in the backseat.

Ellis asked Davis "Do you got me?" and Davis replied "Yes." 

This exchange was repeated, and then Ellis took a step back, produced a handgun and fired 4 to 5 times into the vehicle. Davis was killed immediately, and Reliford was taken to Victor Valley Community Hospital, where she died later.

“The defendant has demonstrated a desire to continue a life of violent gang behavior up to and through the prosecution of this case,” said Imes. “While seeking the ultimate punishment is a tough decision for all involved, I am pleased that a hardworking and dedicated jury representing the communities of this county held the defendant responsible for his actions and provided the families some sense of justice.”

Further proceedings and sentencing has been tentatively set for Jan. 27, 2017.

This case was investigated by the Adelanto Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Homicide Division.

Veterans Donations Drive

The San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association (SBCPAA) would like to thank all of the donors who made their Veterans Donations Drive a huge success. Over one thousand items—including books, blankets, dishes, artwork, furniture, and clothing—were collected among 11 county offices where SBCPAA members (Deputy District Attorneys, Deputy Public Defenders, and Child Support Attorneys) volunteered to oversee this worthwhile project.
After seeing pictures from the donations drive, Quentin Butcher, Director of Business Affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America, and Antoinette Sampson, Director of Operations at Disabled American Veterans, Department of California, both wrote to thank everyone for the excellent response, and to ask that SBCPAA make sure that everyone knew how much their support was greatly appreciated!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Read-A-Thon at Bing Wong Elementary School

In keeping with the County's Vision to Read Program, earlier this month, our office participated in the Bing Wong Read-a-thon at Bing Wong Elementary School in San Bernardino.

According to Supervising Victim Advocate Al Moore, who helped coordinate the event with Victim Advocate Wendy Salas, members of our staff read to students every hour, on the hour, to classes K-6 along with school parents. 

Bing Wong was selected by our office based on the close proximity to our office. 

"The event was greeted with much success, and the principal expressed nothing short of thanks and gratitude for our office," said Moore. "It was great to see our staff excited and enthusiastic about providing this small token of community services."


Monday, November 7, 2016

Blue Cut Fire Recovery Open House

Sr. DA Investigator S. Rivera of our Environmental & Consumer Protection Unit participated in a community outreach this past Saturday, handing out brochures and answering questions at the Blue Cut Fire Recovery Open House.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Former Marine convicted of murdering Erin Corwin

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.– A former Marine was convicted today for the 2014 murder of 19-year-old Erin Corwin.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 27, was found guilty of one felony count of first degree murder with jurors finding true a sentencing enhancement of having intentionally killed the victim by means of lying in wait.
Erin Corwin’s body was found in an abandoned mineshaft outside of Twentynine Palms on Aug. 16, 2014.

“This was a terrible crime that showed absolutely no regard for the value of human life,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said. “Erin Corwin was just a young girl with her entire life ahead of her. And now, all that’s left is her memory. While justice was served today, it can only be a small consolation to her family and friends who will have to suffer a lifetime of pain knowing she died such a senseless death.”

This case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty, who is a member of the Major Crimes Unit. The case was investigated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

“The murder of Erin Corwin was solved by solid investigative work and devoted volunteers committing thousands of hours during the eight-week search,” said Sheriff John McMahon. “We can’t erase the pain felt by Erin’s loved ones, but we will do everything in our power to imprison the criminal responsible for her murder.”

Lee is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 29, 2016 at the San Bernardino Justice Center. He faces Life Without the Possibility of Parole.


Man Found Guilty of Killing Fellow Marine's Wife

Former Marine found guilty in slaying of Twentynine Palms pregnant woman