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.  

Scholarships:
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 www.letr.org
  

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. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hardcore Gang Unit Guilty Verdict


A jury returned a quick guilty verdict in a murder that was solved by the No Boundaries task force. The No Boundaries task force, comprised of Sheriff, San Bernardino PD, ATF, Probation and the FBI, focused on the most violent elements of the California Garden Crips in an effort to stem high murder rates in 2016 in San Bernardino.  The defendant, Dayvion Jones,  was an enforcer for the California Garden Crips. 
 
The victim, Shonta Edwards, was outside a known blood territory smoking a cigarette, wearing red shorts, when the defendant and a codefendant approached him and asked him for a cigarette. The defendant, Dayvion Jones, believed the victim was a rival gang member.  After giving him a cigarette, Dayvion Jones pulled out a .45 caliber handgun and shot Edwards to death, leaving fired casings all over the crime scene.  Soon after, the Task Force intercepted a phone call where the defendant was heard talking about having a .45 caliber gun.  The defendant was stopped that day by SBPD and the gun was found under his seat.  The defendant admitted the gun was his, a .45 1911 style automatic. Ballistics linked the fired rounds to this gun.  Recovered Snap Chat video also showed the defendant with the gun immediately before the traffic stop.  Social media posts, eyewitnesses, an informant and intercepted calls all proved that the defendant killed the victim.
 
The jury returned verdicts of guilt on first degree murder, gun allegations and the gang enhancement. The defendant is looking at 50 years to life. The case was prosecuted by the Central Division’s Hardcore Gang Unit, DDA Lloyd Masson.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Take Your Child To Work Day

 
National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is recognized on the fourth Thursday in April each year.  this annual event is an educational program in the United States and Canada where parents take their children to work with them for one day.  It is the successor to Take Our Daughters to Work Day which, in 2003, was expanded to include boys.  Most companies allowed both girls and boys to participate since the beginning.  The day was renamed "Take Your Child to Work Day." 
 
This year, our Central Division hosted 30 boys and girls who participated in several activities throughout the day.  We started the day off with a presentation from the Bureau of Information Technology team about the parts of a computer tower.  The kids listened intently while munching on donuts and had a quiz afterward. 
 
Next, everyone gathered outside for a demonstration by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department bomb dog, "Wolf", and his handler, Detective Brad Phillips.  Detective Phillips hid a metal device containing all of the ingredients for a live bomb, with the exception of the igniting mechanism.  Wolf sniffed out the device, sat down, and was given a "treat" of a red ball. 
 
The kids then saw an undercover police car. Senior Investigator Amanda Holloway turned on the lights and sounded the siren for the kids while Veronica Parham opened the trunk and explained the necessity of the safety equipment.  The kids also got to see a Mini-14 rifle. 
 

The day continued with a trip to the San Bernardino Justice Center.  The kids observed a preliminary hearing and toured a courtroom and its holding cells.  The group returned back to the media room where Supervising Investigator John Vega gave a presentation on the collection of crime scene evidence.  The kids asked a lot of great questions and really enjoyed looking at the "mock crime scene."  Supervising Investigator Christine Murillo gave a lesson on how to roll fingerprints and fingerprinted each of the kids. 
 
By this time the kids had all worked up a hunger and were able to spend the lunch hour with their parents.  
 
After lunch, the children met with District Attorney Jason Anderson.  He explained the many functions of the Court and District Attorney's Office.   The children once again asked many great questions, including what the DA's favorite color is.  In case you are wondering, it is dark blue or black. 
 
Finally, Senior Investigator Mark Anderson gave a very informative and fun presentation on the dangers of social media and cell phones.  The kids were sent back with their parents along with a goodie bag and cupcake to finish out the day with them. 
 
Thank you to all the parents for sharing your children with us.  A great big thank you to BIT, B of I, SBSD and Court personnel who assisted with demonstrations.  A special thank you to Tera Sorensen, Kimberly Fuller, Melissa Murray, Denise Yoakum, Malina Medina and Jessica Planas for chaperoning the event.  It was a fun filled day for everyone.  The children learned a lot and have many memories they won't soon forget.  
 




Friday, April 19, 2019

National Crime Victims' Rights Week





















Every year in April, the office for Victims of Crime leads communities across the country in observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.  The theme for 2019, "Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope For the Future." celebrates the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed. 

 
During National Crime Victims' Rights Week, the District Attorney's Office hosted a memorial at the Government Center to honor those family members who have lost a loved one as well as the surviving victims of crime and those that advocate on behalf of crime victims. 

This year, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously consented to and adopted a proclamation regarding National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Below is an excerpt:
 
NOW, THEREFORE, We, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, do hereby proclaim the week of April 7-13, 2019, as Crime Victims’ Rights Week
 
AND REAFFIRM this San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office commitment to creating a victim service and criminal justice response that assists all victims of crime during Crime Victims’ Rights Week and throughout the year; and to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation for those community members, victim service providers, and criminal justice professionals who are committed to improving our response to all victims of crime so that they may find relevant assistance, support, justice, and peace.