Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Christmas Day Killer Sentenced to Life Without Parole

On the afternoon of Christmas day in 2015, the defendant, Johnny Oliva, told his family that he needed to go to the store to get some cigarettes.  Instead, he made a few phone calls and lured the victim, David "Mouse" Bustamante, to the In-N-Out in Hesperia.  The defendant claimed he was going to pay him some money back.  
Victim Bustamante had no idea what was about to happen, stopped working on a tattoo for his client, and brought some of his mother’s tamales with him as a gift for the defendant.  When victim Bustamante got out of his car with the tamales, defendant Oliva began shooting him with a revolver.  He expended all 6 rounds into Bustamante's chest.  As victim Bustamante was being shot, one of the clients of the victim, who was in the victim’s car, heard the victim ask why the defendant was doing this.  The defendant began yelling out, “La Eme!”, “That’s what’s up, La Eme!”as he shot.  Defendant Oliva then returned back to his family gathering and ate dinner as if nothing had happened.
Detective Marc Goodwin of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department solved the case by using eyewitnesses, cell phone records, and video from In-N-Out cameras.  An LASD SEB team arrested defendant Oliva in a felony car stop. GPS data from recovered phones, social media evidence, jail calls, and data from the defendant’s On-Star vehicle system all helped prove the defendant was guilty.  
The key civilian witness' identities were sealed until 10 days before trial began, and one attempt to kill a witness was thwarted during the pretrial phase.  Gang Intelligence discovered that a kite with an order to kill the witness would be on the defendant's person, on a particular day. However, when Sheriff personnel tried to obtain the kite, the defendant swallowed it.
Defendant Oliva was found guilty of 1st degree murder with the special circumstances of having done the killing to further the activities of a street gang and lying in wait. He was sentenced to life without parole.
The District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation ran constant security throughout the duration of the case which was vital in bringing justice for the victim, David “Mouse” Bustamante.
Let's all give a round of applause to Deputy District Attorney Lloyd Masson for his outstanding work!
 (Victim Bustamante on Left, defendant Oliva on right)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Halloween Festivities

Take a look at some of the Halloween festivities at the various offices: 

The Morongo Basin crew turned their office into Dr. Kevorkian's office. 

From pumpkin decorating to door and cubicle decorating, potlucks, trick or treating and costume contests, a fantastic time was had by all. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Congratulations are in order for Deputy District Attorney Jack Juan of our Central Division in People v. Pierre (FSB18003148). 
In 2018, the Defendant went on a brazen crime spree, committing four robberies and two sexual assaults, in two locations over the span of about two hours.  The first two robberies occurred at an Ontario "Check n' Go," where he pretended to be a customer but then pulled out a firearm and robbed two employees at gunpoint for over $1500.00. 
Two hours later, he entered a massage parlor in Colton, where he again pretended to be a customer, but then pulled out a firearm and robbed two masseuses at gun point of hundreds of dollars.  He then sexually assaulted them one after the other at gun point.  The masseuses did not speak much English and mostly spoke Mandarin. 
At trial, the Defendant took the stand and admitted that he robbed these four women, however, denied that the gun was real and said the sex was "consensual" because the two women at the massage parlor were prostitutes who had offered him "two free dates."  If that didn't offend the jury enough, the Defendant further testified "there was no real difference between what happened in Ontario and what happened in Colton" and "the gun had nothing to do with whether this was consensual sex." 
Deputy District Attorney Jack Juan delivered a spectacular closing argument that convinced the jury to return guilty verdicts and true allegations in under one hour!  This career criminal and sexual predator is looking at "one-strike" sex offense sentencing and is facing approximately 63 years determinate plus 75 years to life.  He will have a long time to reflect on his words.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Family Violence Unit Victory

Let's extend a round of applause to Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Carrillo of the Family Violence Unit in our Central Division for her recent guilty verdicts in People v. Jorge Palomo.
Angered by 20 years of his sister-in-law, Ana Ramirez, living with the family and interfering in his relationship with his wife and children, Defendant Palomo had enough.
During the evening hours, Defendant Palomo patched the air vents in his home, set out two open propane tanks, severed the gas line to the stove and placed various weapons inside the home; including an axe, survival knife, spear/metal bar, and a sledgehammer. 
While Palomo's wife, Sonia Palomo, and sons were in a bedroom and his sister-in-law, Ana Ramirez, was reading on the couch, Defendant Palomo struck Ana 4 times with a double-headed axe.  The cuts to her neck were so deep they severed her carotid artery and jugular vein, and struck bone in the jaw and spine. 
Defendant Palomo then entered the bedroom where his wife, Sonia, and sons were, still holding the axe and a melee ensued wherein he attacked them with various weapons as they attempted to fight him off. 
Ultimately, Palomo cut one of his son's in the chest with the axe and also stabbed his wife in the chest with a knife.  The family was able to escape the room, only to find Ana dead on the couch and the home filled with the smell of gas.  Defendant Palomo had padlocked the doors closed.  Sonia and her sons had to break out the windows to the home to breathe and used the metal bar to pry open the door. 
Defendant Palomo was detained on scene and gave a statement where he admitted to killing Ana, however, denied any plan to kill his kids or wife. 
The defendant took the stand and testified that he just couldn't take his sister-in-law anymore, that he had been trying to evict her for years and she refused to leave.  Defendant Palomo maintained that he never intended to kill his wife and sons and suggested they attacked him when he entered the room and told them what he'd done to Ana. 
Defendant Palomo was found guilty of the murder of Ana Ramirez by using an axe, and guilty of attempt voluntary manslaughter of Sonia Palomo by using a knife.  The defendant faces 25 or 27 years-to-life in prison and will be sentenced on 11/8/19. 
A big THANK YOU also to Victim Advocate Jessica Cioli who worked tirelessly to ensure the family was supported and prepared throughout the process, and was essential in providing the moral support necessary to help the victims make it through several long and emotional days of testifying at trial. 
THANK YOU for your hard work in getting justice for these victims, Jennifer!



Thursday, October 17, 2019

Start of Morongo Unified Restorative Youth Court Program

The District Attorney's Office, in collaboration with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and Morongo Unified School District, is proud to announce the start of the Morongo Unified Restorative Youth Court Program for the 2019-2020 school year. 
The Morongo Unified Restorative Youth Court is a diversionary program specifically designed for students between the ages of 12-17 who have committed a qualifying misdemeanor or infraction or have violated a school rule.  Participation by all parties including the respondent is voluntary.  In Youth court, students will have an opportunity to act as court clerks, bailiffs, advocates for the community or the respondent or to be jurors. 
The purpose of Youth Court is to provide a forum for students to admit and explain their involvement in the crime or suspension referral, be judged by a jury of their peers, and to make amends to the community.  A jury of student volunteers will listen to the facts of the case, deliberate and create a disposition tailored to the respondent and to the facts of the case.  The jury will be able to sentence the respondent to jury duties, community service, counseling, anger management, written apologies, tutoring, attendance checks, and any other alternative in accordance with restorative justice goals.
Once the respondent has successfully completed the terms of his/her disposition, no criminal charges will be filed, and no school disciplinary action will occur. 
The Youth Court committee wishes to acknowledge and thank Ms. Mikki Cichocki, Program Specialist for San Bernardino City Unified School District for her assistance. 
If you have any additional questions, please contact Deputy Michael Sellers at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office at 760-366-4175 or Dr. Garrett Gruwell, Coordinator of Child Welfare and Attendance at Morongo Unified School District at 760-367-9191 x4360. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Cold Case Victory

Check out the article below regarding Deputy District Attorney Denise Yoakum's most recent cold case guilty verdict in People v. Virginia Backlund. 

Third defendant convicted of murder in 2011 slaying of Rancho Cucamonga woman

By BRIAN ROKOS | | The Press-Enterprise

PUBLISHED: September 29, 2019 at 3:55 pm | UPDATED: September 29, 2019 at 3:56 pm

A Beaumont resident has become the third person convicted of murder in the 2011 death of a Rancho Cucamonga woman whose body was found in a shallow grave in Yucaipa.
A San Bernardino County Superior Court jury on Monday, Sept. 23, found Virginia Marie Backlund, 29, guilty of murder and torture of a friend, Christine Jo “CJ” Kunstmann, 44. Backlund is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 20. A special circumstance of torture committed during a murder means she will be sentenced to life without parole.

Two others, Michael Angelo Perez, 42, and Deserae Lenore James, 28, were convicted of the same charges in 2018 and were sentenced to life without parole.

Kunstmann’s body was found July 15, 2011, under an oak tree off Edgar Canyon Road, about 200 yards northwest of Mile High Ranch Road on Yucaipa’s eastern edge. She had last been seen that May. Many people who knew Kunstmann immediately suspected Backlund, Perez and James.

But prosecutors believed they did not have enough evidence to charge them for almost four years. The trio were finally arrested in January 2015.
“It was almost the perfect murder. We had no DNA or cause of death,” Deputy District Attorney Denise Yoakum said in an interview after Backlund’s conviction.
But prosecutors learned from those who knew the quartet that Kunstmann was being abused by those friends, and prosecutors compared the statements that the suspects gave to law enforcement for inconsistencies that could be used in trials, Yoakum said.

The four had known each other for years. Kunstmann suffered seizures and some of her friends described her as slow, Yoakum said.
“She was basically their taxi service. She would drive them to stores and babysit. She was desperate to belong to this group of friends,” Yoakum said, and they took advantage of her.

But then the friends turned against Kunstmann when they believed she was intentionally trying to crash her car in order to hurt them and their children, Yoakum said.
Before killing Kunstmann, they tortured her for three days in an apartment and kept her in a bathtub because of her weak bladder, Yoakum said.

Before burying her, they wiped down her body and her car with rubbing alcohol and bleached the bathtub, Yoakum said.
“It must have been a very painful and slow death for CJ,” she said.

Backlund’s attorney, Alan Spears, said he argued to the jury that Perez orchestrated the murder and manipulated Backlund and James, who Spears said is Perez’s girlfriend.
“It appears the jury did not believe the clinical psychologist’s testimony regarding battered women’s syndrome, but I do think the jury worked very hard in deliberating the case,” Spears said in an interview.

Thank you for your hard work, Denise!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Kudos to DDA Kathy Didonato

Defendant Walter Gonzalez Maravilla
Kudos to FVU lead Deputy District Attorney Kathy DiDonato for her great win in the case of People v. Walter Gonzalez Maravilla.  The Defendant was dating several women, including the victim, when the relationship to the victim came to an end.  The Defendant met the victim at a park.  While in the parking lot, the Defendant began brutally beating the victim in front of numerous witnesses, none of whom intervened.  The Defendant pulled the victim out of her car and beat her until she suffered a seizure.  He then moved the victim to a position under his own vehicle tires.  He drove over the victim, killing her.  The Defendant then conducted a three point turn and ran over the victim again.  The Defendant told police it was either going to be "me or her, and decided today it was going to be her." 

The jury did not take long to find the Defendant guilty, and were legitimately concerned about the Defendant ever being released.

GREAT JOB, Kathy! 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Victorville Murder Convictions

Renee Metcalf owned a home in Twentynine Palms where she lived with her adult daughter, Christy McKissic, and Christy's daughter, Zariah.  On the night of the murders, Zariah fell asleep in bed with her grandmother.  At approximately midnight, Zariah was woken up to her grandmother running out of her room toward Christy's room.  Zariah then heard gunshots and saw blood spray in the hallway.  Zariah saw a man walk in the room towards her while pointing a gun at her.  The magazine of the gun dropped out of the gun and the male told her to, "shut up and go to sleep."  The male left the home moments later.  Zariah walked out of the room and found her mother and grandmother dead from multiple gunshot wounds including close range shots to the head of both victims.  Zariah called 911.

Homicide detectives found that Christy's phone was missing but obtained records from Sprint and Google.  The Sprint records showed the last call received from Christy's phone belonged to a marine by the name of Rafael Aikens.  The Google records showed that Christy's phone moved away from her home at the same time Zariah was calling 911 and the phone ended up at the marine base right near the barracks building Aikens lived in.  Aikens was arrested but denied involvement.

Fellow marines were interviewed including one who said the day after the murders, Aikens gave him his pistol and asked him if he could take it home off the base and clean it.  Additionally, another marine told detectives a couple weeks later that Aikens had said he had killed two people but that at the time he didn't believe he was being serious.  The defendant's gun was compared to an FCC and bullet located at the scene and came back as a match.
At trial, the defendant took the stand and testified that he called the victim that night to catch up but that the two of them never talked.  When confronted with evidence that his phone had been erased when detectives took possession of it, he stated that he downloaded pornography on the phone which caused a phone wiping virus.  The jury did not believe his testimony.

After less than an hour of deliberations, the jury convicted the defendant of both counts of first-degree murder plus multiple allegations.
A fantastic job by Deputy District Attorney Justin Crocker of the Victorville office!  

We also owe a great big, "Job well done" to Deputy District Attorney Jason Wilkinson of the Victorville office for his outstanding work in the first-degree murder verdicts in the case of People v. Mercado & Cummings.  The three-month long trial featured dual juries and a host of legal issues related to SB 1437. 
On August 9, 2017, at approximately 7:20 PM, a car driven by defendant Reyna Mercado and occupied by defendant Danielle Cummings and defendant Anthony Pitts, arrived at the residence of the victim's mother, Maesha McCullers.  The three suspects stopped at Turner's Outdoorsman to purchase shotgun shells minutes before. 

Upon arrival at McCullers' residence, Defendant Pitts exited the car with a shotgun.  Defendant Pitts fired the shotgun at McCullers' residence several times.  The shotgun blasts struck 12-year old victim Makiya Walls inside the residence.  Defendant Pitts ran back to defendant Mercado's car, which was waiting in the street, and Defendant Mercado drove away.  Panic ensued at McCullers' residence as neighbors attempted CPR on Makiya to no avail.  Makiya died of injuries sustained from the gunshot wounds.  All defendants gave statements admitting varying degrees of culpability.
The body of Makiya Walls was autopsied on August 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM.  During the autopsy, Dr. Brian Hutchins found the body suffered 9 gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.  The cause of death was determined to be a homicide.

Thank you to Justin, Jason and the many support personnel for their hard work and dedication to the office that helped to ensure a successful outcome on both of these trials. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Human Trafficking Conviction

Defendant Aaron Vaughn
On June 4th, 2018, patrol officers with the San Bernardino Police Department responded to the area  known for a high volume of prostitution activity in the City of San Bernardino for a report of a young female possibly engaging in prostitution. Upon arrival, officers located the 17-year-old victim, Jane Doe, who was a runaway from the Oakland area.  The San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force responded and assumed the investigation.  During the interview with Jane Doe, it was found that she came to San Bernardino to work as a prostitute with two males, Defendant Victor Wilkins and Defendant Aaron Vaughn, as well as an adult female, Victim 2. Task force members responded to a local motel and attempted to make contact with the two males. Officers forced entry into Defendant Wilkins motel room due to Wilkins barricading himself in his room and refusing to open the door. Officers located Defendant Vaughn without incident in another room at the same motel. It was found that both defendants had prior convictions relating to pimping and human trafficking. Vaughn was found to actively be on federal parole for Sex Trafficking of Children and had just been released from prison in February 2018.

Defendant Victor Wilkins
During the course of the investigation, it was found that Wilkins had met the minor victim through social media. After exchanging messages online for a period of time,  Defendant Wilkins picked up Jane Doe and Victim 2 on International Blvd in the City of Oakland, which is an area known for a high volume of prostitution activity.  He took both females to work as prostitutes in the City of San Francisco. They returned to the Oakland area to meet with Wilkins friend and “Pimp Partner,” Defendant Vaughn.  At that point, Victim 2  began working as a prostitute for Vaughn.  The defendants then drove the victims to the Los Angeles area where both girls worked as prostitutes.  After two days, the defendants drove the victims to San Bernardino where they were sent out to the street to work as prostitutes again.

During an analysis of the digital data from the defendant’s cell phones and social media, it was found that Wilkins and Vaughn were heavily involved in the “pimping” lifestyle. It was also determined that both Defendants were involved in pimping, pandering, and the human trafficking of multiple victims. Defendant Wilkins was found connected to Victim 3 and Victim 4, both adult females, whom he had previously transported to San Bernardino for the purposes of the victim to engage in prostitution.
The defendants were charged with human trafficking, pimping and pandering of a minor as to Jane Doe as well as pimping and pandering of Victim 2. Defendant Wilkins was also charged with attempted pimping and pandering of Victims 3 and 4.
At trial, the minor victim, Jane Doe, was the only victim of the four who appeared and testified against the defendants. Defendant Wilkins testified on his own behalf claiming he was a “rap artist” and not a pimp. The jury deliberated for approximately 6 hours and returned verdicts of guilt on all 12 counts and Vaughn’s prior human trafficking conviction allegation to be true.

Great job to Deputy District Attorney Cassie Helmuth of our West Valley Division! 
Thank you for your hard work!


Monday, July 29, 2019

Peer Support Team

Did you know that you work for the only District Attorney’s Office in the state that has a multi-disciplinary peer support team that includes members of every division and serves the entire office?  It’s true!  While many law enforcement, firefighter and first responder organizations have peer support programs, we are the only District Attorney’s office that has a fully trained and structured program that involves more than law enforcement members only. 

The SBDA’s office has recognized the value of providing a way for their employees and their family members to deal with personal and/or professional problems.  A successful approach has been to provide a program that offers a peer component that is mutually convenient for the supporter and peer, in addition to Employee Assistance resources.  A peer support volunteer is a fellow co-worker who is trained and available to listen to someone in need and can refer you to the appropriate outside resources if needed.  When something is going on in your life that is negatively impacting your work performance, family or self, a peer supporter may offer that assistance by just listening and giving appropriate support.  The content of the assistance is confidential providing it does not violate any law or office policy.  Peer supporters are not counselors, mental health professionals or chaplains.  They are every day, regular folks who have committed to ongoing training and volunteer time to help their co-workers. 
Your Peer Support team is here for you!  Look for when we host our events, such as the upcoming “Wellness in the Workplace” lunchtime training.  Past events have included sharing information over Root “Peer” Floats, Holiday Cookies & Cocoa, Ice Cream Socials and providing information for new DDA training.   Our jobs are critical to public safety and can get stressful at times.  Everyone benefits from having healthy, supported co-workers in a safe and professional environment.  As a member of the office, you have access to peer supporters within the office AND to the office employee assistance program, provided by The Counseling Team International.  This is free is and includes a 24/7 crisis hotline for you and your family.  TCTI provide confidential behavioral health and wellness services. 
Don’t want to talk to anyone in the office?  No problem!  You can call TCTI directly at 855-733-7855.  They offer counseling for a variety of life’s issues, such as relationships, finances, depression, suicide, grief, job stress or substance abuse.   TCTI works with hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country and has well trained, professional staff that understand the demands of working in public safety. 
Check out Peer Services on the DA Starnet, Useful Links – click Peer Support.  We have a transparent set of guidelines for supporters and all staff.  Look for our posters and contact cards in the break rooms.  Starnet has a list of resources you can access directly.  If you are interested in becoming a peer supporter (our team is currently full but we do maintain a wait/interest list with Melissa Murray) or have suggestions for training and services, please contact Team Coordinators Christine Murillo, Flerida Alarcon or Mary Ashley.
If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, please consider calling 909- 884-0133 or (800) 733-7855.  Help is available and you are NEVER ALONE. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jury Recommends Death in People v. Charles Merritt

On November 11, 2013, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department was notified of possible human remains in a desert area of Victorville, California.  The next day, Sheriff Department Homicide detail, along with the Coroner investigators, began excavating the graves and found the remains of four individuals, later identified as the McStay family: Joseph McStay, Summer McStay, and children Gianni McStay, and Joseph “Chubba” McStay Jr.  Coroner examination of the bodies revealed that each member of the family was killed by blunt force trauma to the head.   

The family was reported missing from their Fallbrook home in San Diego County on February 15, 2010.  A business associate of Joseph McStay, eventual defendant Charles Merritt, was interviewed by police two days later.  He spoke of the family in the past tense several times and told them he did not care for Summer.  San Diego County investigators learned the McStay family’s Isuzu Trooper truck was towed from a lot in San Ysidro on February 8, 2010.  DNA swabs were collected into evidence from the vehicle.  The samples were taken from the steering wheel, gear shifter, and control panel of the vehicle.  The samples were compared and matched the defendant’s DNA. 

 During the time period of the disappearance, the defendant’s cell phone was turned off.  Two days after the disappearance, however, the defendant’s cell phone signal was received by a cell phone tower in the desert area of Victorville.  The cell phone tower was located near the gravesite where the bodies would eventually be discovered.

Additionally, investigators learned of a business relationship Joseph McStay had with the defendant in the case.  McStay hired Merritt as a designer and builder of custom water fountains for his business.  It was later revealed that McStay loaned the defendant $30,000 to pay off a gambling debt.  A few days prior to the disappearance of the family, the defendant began writing and forging checks from McStay’s Quickbook checking accounts.  Merritt also wrote checks to himself after the disappearance but backdated them to the date of their last meeting. 

With this and additional evidence, Merritt was arrested for the murder of all four McStay family members.  The trial began in October of 2018 and was tried by veteran San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors Sean Daugherty, Britt Imes, and Melissa Rodriguez.  After months of trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder on all counts, and on June 24th, 2019, agreed to impose the death penalty for three of the four counts of murder.

A great job by Sean, Britt, Melissa, and the entire law enforcement team that worked on the investigation and prosecution of this case for the better part of a decade.  Justice for the McStay family was achieved in this matter!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Annual Bureau of Investigation Scholarship Presentation and Employee Recognition Ceremony

On June 19th, the Investigators’ Association proudly sponsored the Annual Bureau of Investigation Scholarship Presentation and Employee Recognition Ceremony.  

Since 2000, the Investigators’ Association has provided over $12,000 in scholarship money to the immediate families of the association members.  This year, two scholarship recipients received $500 each.  The Association hopes to continue this tradition in giving back to the members for years to come.
Service Pins and Investigations Recognition:     Congratulations to all persons who were recognized for years of service and/or their dedication to providing quality investigative services.
Past Board Recognitions:
Duties of the association board is ancillary to their regular assignments and the association would be non-existent without the willingness to volunteer.  Thank you to the past board members for your willingness to volunteer!
Association Mission:
The Mission of the Association is; “to promote a better working environment and togetherness among the membership.”  The mission is upheld through hosting events such as this and supporting future events that bring our office together.
Again, congratulations to the scholarship recipients and to all those recognized for your hard work and dedication!   
As a reminder, our Office Barbeque will be held at Yucaipa Regional Park on September 14th.  Bring the family and enjoy the festivities.  RSVP by August 30th.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Special Olympics Torch Run


Several members of our office recently participated in the Special Olympics Torch Run. The Torch Run program began in 1981, when Wichita, Kansas Chief of Police Richard Lamunyon saw an urgent need to raise funds and increase awareness for Special Olympics. The idea of the Law Enforcement Torch Run program was to provide local law enforcement officers with opportunities to volunteer with Special Olympics in communities where the officers lived and worked.

In 1984, the International Association of Chiefs of Police endorsed Special Olympics as official charity through the Torch Run Program. With the IACP’s enthusiastic support and leadership, the Torch Run soon involved all facets of the law enforcement community. Today all 50 states and more than 35 countries have Torch Run programs.  The Torch Run is Special Olympics' largest grass-roots fundraiser.  Law Enforcement and athletes,
The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) is Special Olympics’ largest grass-roots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle.  Law enforcement (the Guardians of the Flame) and athletes, run the Special Olympics “Flame of Hope” to events and competitions throughout the state to symbolize unity and inclusiveness.

Also Known as Guardians of the Flame, law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes carry the “Flame of Hope” into Opening Ceremonies of local competitions. They also carry it into Special Olympics State, Provincial, National, Regional and World Games. There are over 97,000 law enforcement members that carry the “Flame of Hope” annually.
The Torch Run has grown over the years and now includes many fundraising platforms.  These platforms include:  Plane Pulls, Polar Plunges, Tip-A-Cops and more.  Since the beginning, LETR has raised over $600 million for Special Olympics programs. To learn more about LETR, visit

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Family Violence Unit Guilty Verdict

Julio Cesar Serrano, a parolee on an ankle monitor for serious felony convictions, was out of prison for only ten months before he murdered his girlfriend Martha Garcia.  Serrano met Martha at their workplace, and after a few months of dating, he discovered that she was married, and kicked her out of the trailer where they were living.  Despite telling his parole agent in the weeks before the murder that he was angry with Martha and worried that something might happen, and after being advised to stay away from her, Serrano kept seeing Martha.  The night before the murder, Serrano had Martha pick him up from his family’s home in Los Angeles and drive them back to their trailer in San Bernardino.  On the morning of the murder, Serrano brutally beat Martha, causing black eyes, a head injury, and knocking out her front teeth. He then stabbed Martha with a 12” knife over ten times before ultimately lodging the knife in her throat.  Martha died as a result.

At trial, the pathologist testified to each of the defensive wounds that Martha sustained, explaining how she fought back throughout the attack, despite having a collapsed lung.  Defendant then covered her body with a comforter, showered, and drove Martha’s car back to his family’s home in Los Angeles. There, he told his sister “I hurt Martha real bad.”  He said he was suicidal, and asked to go to the hospital, where physicians attended to the knife wound to his hand and an injured ankle.  At the hospital he admitted to law enforcement what he’d done, and just as he was about to be taken to the station, for the first time mentioned that “the voices made me do it.” 
Accordingly, Serrano entered pleas of Not Guilty and Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, resulting in a two-phase trial.  The jury first returned a verdict of 1st degree murder during the guilt phase.  In the sanity phase, three experts testified regarding Defendant’s documented history of mental illness and their opinion regarding his mental state at the time of the killing.  The defense called one retained defense expert as well as a court-appointed expert who opined that Serrano was insane at the time of the killing.  Another court appointed psychologist testified for the People opining that while Serrano suffered from an unspecified mental illness, he had been sane at the time he killed Martha.  Serrano opted not to take the stand to testify on his own behalf.  The jury returned a quick verdict finding the defendant sane at the time of the murder.  
The case was prosecuted by San Bernardino DDA Jennifer Carrillo.  The verdict would not have been made possible without the help of the San Bernardino Police Department and investigating officer Detective Joshua Cunningham, as well as DA Investigator Amanda Holloway, Victim Advocate Claudia Coronado, and Investigative Technician Andrea Singleton.