Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Raul Lopez's Murder: $50,000.00 Reward Announced

From left to right, Lucio Garcia (cousin), Detective James Nuttall (facing family) Guadalupe Gomez (Raul Lopez's wife, holding Ziara 2) Violet 3 in front of her, Melesio Lopez 16, with his arms around his brother Eric 7, Celeste 6.  Unidentified family friend standing behind Guadalupe.

UPDATE August 1st, 2012:
To make a donation to the Bank of America (BofA) account, you must walk into a branch office (like I did) and speak to a customer service representative or teller.  If you are a BofA customer, unfortunately, you cannot make the donation online, since BofA's online banking requires a zip code for the receiving funds account to make the transfer. Sprocket

UPDATE July 26th, 2012:
I was finally able to get a short video I shot of the family before my camera died.  The sound is terrible and it's all in Spanish. Sprocket.

I apologize for the delay in getting this story up.  Right after the press conference, Mr. Sprocket needed my help on one of his projects and I was working in a basement mechanical room until late into the evening. All day yesterday and today, I have been haunted by the images of the Lopez family.  I could not get the faces of Guadalupe, Lucio, Melesio and her young children out of my mind.  The family looked so sad. Sprocket.

July 24th, 2012: Raul Lopez Murder Press Conference
I made a point to arrive at the press conference early, and I believe I was the second journalist there. As I was walking towards the restaurant, a woman stepped out of the Pink Cheeks salon and asked me what was going on.  I told her about the press conference and the announcement about the reward.  She told me that she and her coworkers often ordered food from the restaurant.  She said she knew the cook but not personally.  She also told me that she thought it was "too soon" for the "Help Wanted" sign in the restaurant window.

When I got up to the restaurant, there was a large help wanted sign in the front window.  The press conference was held to announce that there is a $50,000.00 reward for information into the shooting death of Raul Lopez, who was shot while working at Hoagies & Wings.  The media would also receive an updated, longer piece of security camera video from the Panda Express, just a few doors west and across the street.  I brought my old Fuji Fine Pix 7000, hoping to film the press conference.  The first person I recognized walking up the street from where they parked was supervising detective Rob Bub (head cowboy).  Next was Detective Pete Barba, and last Detective James Nuttall (three of the four cowboys).  Several media stations showed up to film the event, each one trying to get the best spot for filming.

Not long after Detective Nuttall arrived, Raul Lopez's family walked up the sidewalk.  Guadalupe Gomez is a tiny woman.  She was surrounded by her five children, (Melesio, Eric, Celeste, Violet, Ziara) a nephew Lucio Garcia, and an unidentified older family friend.  One reporter rushed up to her before she had even reached the restaurant, knelt down and started asking her questions in Spanish.  I knew that I would be at a disadvantage because I don't speak the language. After Guadalupe spoke, Lopez's oldest son, Melesio, picked up one of the younger girls, held her up to the reporter's microphone and she said a few words in a tiny voice.

The other media outlets are still getting their cameras set up while we wait for Councilman Tom LaBonge to arrive. Once LaBonge arrived with his support staff, the press conference got underway.  Wouldn't you know it, I had hoped to film the event but my nine-year-old camera chose this moment to fail.  There were squiggly lines all over the screen.  Even changing the memory card did nothing to correct the problem.

I pulled out my notepad and tried to take notes.  Before he spoke, Councilman LaBonge first made a point to introduce Lopez's family and children.  He made sure they spoke to the media before he spoke.  After speaking in Spanish, at the end Guadalupe said in English, Please help."  Melesio addressed the crowd: "All we want is justice." Then Councilman LaBonge spoke. Some of his statements were directed to the Lopez family. "We all feel for your family and this tragedy.... that your daddy is not here. (snip)  We need the community's help."  The five African Americans "....ordered food... an argument (emerged?) and tragedy ensued. (snip) Just like the country mourns the tragedy in Colorado, this city mourns your father, (Raul Lopez).  (snip) He should be here today."  He then thanked the Van Nuys Homicide detectives for their hard work.

Detective Nuttall then spoke to the media about what they know happened inside and outside the restaurant on Friday June 29th.  "It's going to take a phone call. (snip) He was just doing a hard days work."  Nuttall went on to explain that they have not exhausted all their leads at this point.  They are waiting on some information from an "outside agency," but Nuttall would not name the agency when asked. "....but at this point, (we? feel?) it's in (the) LAPD's and the family's best interest to pursue this angle (the reward)."

The cameras in the restaurant were working, but were not recording the night of the murder.  Through, accident, happenstance, the camera equipment was in an out of the way area of the restaurant.  Several boxes happened to get pushed up against the recording equipment and it's believed these boxes some how must have pushed a button to stop the cameras from recording. Nuttall said, “We have cameras that picked up the vehicle.”  It’s a black Cadillac Escalade, a newer model with 26” chrome wheels. The vehicle is first seen traveling east on Ventura Blvd.  It makes a U-turn and parks in front of the Panda Express across the street on the corner.  It’s just past 10:30 PM when two of the five individuals enter the Panda Express and find out the restaurant is closed.  Then then walk across the street to Hoagies & Wings.

Nuttall continues, "A chair is thrown over the counter at Lopez. (snip) He used that chair to escort them out of the restaurant. (snip) Lopes was shot in the upper torso, by a medium caliber bullet. (snip) We've got some good descriptions, but without a license plate..."

It's believed the group may be local.  The five individuals did not run from the scene but walked towards their vehicle at a fast pace.  Detective Nuttall stressed that anyone coming forward did not need to leave their names.  The detectives would welcome any tips that were left anonymously.

While Detective Nuttall spoke, Guadalupe Gomez, Raul's wife and an older, unidentified friend peered inside the glass door of the restaurant. 

I waited patiently while several reporters stuck microphones into Guadalupe, Melesio and some of the younger children's faces and asked them questions.  "Melesio told reporters that no one is taking care of the family.  His cousin Lucio is helping out but he doesn't live with them.  He verified that his mother doesn't work and that some of the children go to school.  His youngest sister stays at home.  "We're really sad.  We're just sad," Melesio told the press.  "I've known him for sixteen years. (snip) They (his siblings) are not going to be able to know their father. (snip) Maybe people (out there?) know something."

When I finally got my turn to speak to Raul's oldest son, I wanted to know more about their father and the type of person he was.

In a soft voice, Melesio said, "He was a nice person.  He loved all of us. He enjoyed being with the family."  Melesio stated his father had worked at Hoagies & Wings for one year.  He also worked a second job two days a week at a restaurant in Tarzana, The Town. Prior to these jobs, he worked at Vitello's as a waiter.   Melesio said his father was responsible and hard working. He had been working the second job for a few months.  One of the things Raul enjoyed was singing.  Raul was the sole breadwinner for the family.  I said to Melesio, "I'm so sorry for your family's loss."

I then waited for an opportunity to speak to Guadalupe when Melesio could translate. Guadalupe said she and Raul were married seventeen years. "He was a good father, responsible, hard working.  He loved us."  He was responsible for them.  "He worked for us. (snip) He was a nice person. He loved us.  He had patience. (snip) He respected everyone."  I made a point to tell Guadalupe and Melesio that I know these detectives.  They will work very hard to solve this murder.

Murder is not very common in the Sherman Oaks community.  I only found news about four murders in the last six years.  One of those was a murder-suicide in 2011, and another was a park beating in February 2012.  The detectives told me they couldn't remember ever being called out to a location on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.  It's an active, main street of the entire San Fernando Valley.

During the entire press conference, it was hard for me to look at the sad faces of Guadalupe, his son Melesio and Lucio.  Through much of the press conference, tiny Guadalupe held her youngest child in her arms.  All I could think about was how was this family going to survive?

 Celeste, Eric and Violet Lopez with a family photo. 
Photo Credit: Daily News (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

Without a provider, this family needs your help.  Hoagies & Wings CEO Akida Mashaka, issued a press release that a donation fund has been set up for the family.  Checks can be mailed or dropped of to:

Hoagies & Wings
Attn: Guadalupe Gomez
14552 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

In addition, an account has been set up at Bank of America to receive donations to the family.

Bank of America Account #164107764046
Guadalupe Gomez

Please T&T readers, consider opening your heart and wallet, even if it's a small amount to help this family.

DR#: 1209-13708

LOCATION: "Hoagies & Wings Restaurant"
14552 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA

DATE: Friday, June 29th, 2012, at approximately 2300 hours.

SUSPECT: Male black, black hair, brown eyes, 5'10" to 6'00", 185 pounds and approximately 28 to 35 years old.  Suspect was wearing a black and yellow Ralph Lauren polo shirt, blue jeans, gold chain and tennis shoes.

WEAPON: Semi-automatic hand gun.

VEHICLE: Cadillac Escalade, 2005-12, Mode, Black (NFI)

MO: Both Suspect and Victim engaged in a verbal dispute.  The victim grabbed a chair, approached the suspect, and caused the suspect to exit the location.  The suspect then produced a hand gun, fired one round which struck the victim in the torso, killing him.

If you have any information regarding the suspect, please contact Van Nuys Detectives at (818)374-0040 or you may also call 1-877-LAPD-24-7.  Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-22-8477).  Tipsters may also contact Crime stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone.  All text messages should begin with the letters "LAPD."  Tipsters may also go to click on "webtips" and follow the prompts.

When Councilman LaBonge was walking up the street with his aides for the press conference, he saw a discarded ice cream cup on the sidewalk.  He picked it up, put it in a trash can and then made a call.  Right after the press conference was over and everyone had packed up, an orange painted city maintenance truck pulls us with a magnetic sign attached to the side door that said Councilman Tom LaBonge.  The maintenance worker started sweeping all the discarded trash off the sidewalk.

Daily News Report
CBS June 30th Story
LA Times, LA Now Blog

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New Video Released in Raul Lopez Murder

LAPD Van Nuys Homicide detectives have released an extended video of person's of interest in the shooting death of Hoagies & Wings cook, Raul Lopez.  If you have any information please call Van Nuys Homicide detectives (the cowboys) at: (818) 374-0040. If you would rather remain anonymous you can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

I will have an update after the press conference this morning.

Monday, July 23, 2012

$50,0000 Reward Offered in Raul Lopez's Murder

Shooting victim Raul Lopez, undated.

At 9:00 AM Tuesday, LAPD, Counselman Tom LaBonge and member's of the victim's family will hold a press conference in front of Hoagies & Wings, 14552 Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks to announce a $50,000 reward for information in the slaying of cook Raul Lopez.  The restaurant where Lopez was killed is represented by LaBonge.

As previously reported, Lopez was shot outside the entrance of Hoagies & Wings June 29th, 2012, just past 11:00 PM, after successfully corralling a group of five disruptive customers out the front entrance.  Five African American men who appeared to be in their 30's, started complaining about the slow service and hurling racial slurs at the restaurant staff.  When customers started to leave, Raul stepped in to diffuse the situation and it cost him his life.

Help solve this murder.  If you have any information, please call Van Nuys Homicide detectives (the cowboys) at: (818) 374-0040. If you would rather remain anonymous you can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

I plan on attending this press conference and will be updating T&T readers as soon as possible.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Joe Paterno Statue FINALLY Taken Down

Statue of Joe Paterno at Pennsylvania State University has a report from the Associated Press that the controversal statue of Joe Paterno has been taken down.  The Freeh Report revealed that Joe Paterno and university officials knew about allegations of child sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky but chose to do nothing.

ESPN has a glimpse of the removal this morning via this YouTube video.

The AP report indicates that on Monday July 23rd, 2012, the NCAA will reveal the "corrective and punitive measures" against the university.

I'm looking forward to hearing what those specific sanctions will be.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Help the Cowboys Solve Raul Lopez's Murder

Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.  Photo: Google Street View.

We hadn't planned on eating out the evening of July 8th, 2012, but because of a mishap in our kitchen Mr. Sprocket and I got to hear a gut-wrenching eye witness account of a murder that happened right near us in Sherman Oaks.  Here's what happened.

Mr. Sprocket often cooks our breakfast and dinner and that Sunday was no exception.  We try to follow a diet based on our blood type and Mr. Sprocket, household cook, is sensitive to restaurant food that is often over-salted for his taste.  One of my simple pleasures is eating on the back patio where we can enjoy our meal and watch the aerial acrobatics of our resident hummingbirds. I could watch them for hours chasing each other for control of the best flowers and the hummingbird feeders.

It happened while I was trying to carry the various pots and dishes of wild salmon, steamed broccoli and brown rice out to the patio.  I set the glass rice dish on top of the dryer to open the back door and no sooner did I let go of it that it went flying.  The hot glass bowl broke into a gazillion pieces, sending rice and glass everywhere, even into the plate of salmon and bowl of broccoli.  Realizing we could not be certain that we picked all the glass out of the food, everything ended up in the trash and we started negotiating about where we would go for dinner.  Mr. Sprocket's first and only choice is always Thai food; mine is Mediterranean.  I won.  We cleaned up the kitchen and drove to the boulevard.

There is a nice mile or so section of Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks that is jammed with a variety of small businesses, unique shops and restaurants.  Part of this street-based open mall consists of an area called The Village at Sherman Oaks, which is about half a block from where we were going.

We had not been to Mamani's in a long time.  We love their grilled vegetables and the fact that they don't add salt to the marinade in their kabobs and 'Lule Beef.'  It's one of the few places we like.  Not long after we sat down, out of the blue Mr. Sprocket starts up a conversation with a couple seated at a nearby table, asking if they knew about the murder that happened next door at "Hoagies & Wings" over a week prior on Friday, June 29th.  Amazingly, they were both dining at Mamani's and had witnessed the event.

Friday night, June 29th around 11:00 PM was probably a typical busy night on Ventura Blvd.  People grabbing a late meal on restaurant sidewalk patios, or enjoying a night out drinking with friends.  Thirty-eight year old father of five, Raul Lopez was the chef on duty at Hoagies & Wings that night.  He was shot in the chest right outside the restaurant after a group of African-American men complained about the slow food service and started causing a disruption in the restaurant.  After the shooting, the five men fled the scene in a black Cadillac Escalade.

While waiting for our order, Mr. Sprocket started to ask the woman questions, which she freely answered.  When I realized that they had witnessed the event, I pulled a pen out of my handbag and started taking notes on pages of the LA WEEKLY that I was reading. I explained to the couple that I have a blog and that I recently covered the Stephanie Lazarus trial.  I also told them that I know the detectives investigating the crime ("the cowboys") and I'm certain they will do all they can to solve the case. To maintain the couple's anonymity, I'll call them Jess and Denise, not their real names.

While Mamani's clientele usually consists of older whites and Persians, the customers that frequent Hoagies & Wings are a much younger, active crowd.  Five African-American men entered the restaurant sometime before 11:00 PM.  They were tall, well over six feet.  Newspaper reports and the individuals I spoke to said they had large builds and looked like football players.  Several of them with their hair in dreadlocks, had gold teeth, and were wearing gold chains around their necks and flashing diamonds.  Denise relayed to me the exchange that happened between the young cashier and the individual who paid for the order.  He pulled out a large wad of hundred-dollar bills.  The young cashier, seeing such a large amount of cash, jokingly asked something to the effect of, "“You’re so rich, what do you do for a living?”  The man allegedly responds, “I sell shit for a living.”

After placing their order, they sit down inside the restaurant to wait.  I don't know how long it was that they were waiting before they start to complain about the slow service, and how long it was taking to get their order.  Hoagies & Wings has an open kitchen with a tall counter separating it from the tables.  Denise tells me that one of the men "went up to the counter, reached over and started messing with the food".  Lopez told them to stop.  At some point, one individual in the group started to throw chairs inside the restaurant.  Newspaper reports indicate the group started to hurl racial slurs at the employees and the situation quickly deteriorated.  Other customers were leaving to remove themselves from the situation.

My understanding is, Raul picked up a chair, pointed it at the men and successfully forced the unruly group out of the restaurant.  Raul then sets the chair down. Right outside the restaurant doors, one of the individuals pulled out a gun and shot Raul in the chest.  Denise was sitting on Mamani's patio, playing a game of backgammon and witnessed the shooting.  She told me she was so startled she could not describe what the man looked like.  Detectives have conflicting reports as to which individual may have been the actual shooter and are not identifying anyone at the present time; all five individuals are listed as "persons of interest."  Some witnesses have said it was the man wearing a yellow polo type shirt, others said is was the one wearing a black Ferrari type jacket with a red stripe.  Four teens who were sitting on the Hoagies & Wings sidewalk patio immediately jumped the low fencing and fled the scene. Mamani's patio customers rushed back inside Mamani's and hid behind the counters.

Jess happened to be inside Mamani's when he heard the commotion start next door.  He rushed outside and was on the sidewalk just before Hoagies & Wings when he saw Raul fall to the ground.  He rushed to his aid.  According to Denise, Jess held Raul’s head and put pressure on his chest wound as he lay dying. Jess kept talking to Raul, trying to calm him.  Denise said Raul’s dying words were, “I don’t want to die!  They shot me! They shot me!”  Denise said, "It was 11:08 PM when Raul was shot."

Denise told me that the Hoagies & Wings surveillance cameras were not working and the video that was recently released by LAPD came from the Panda Express restaurant down the street. Two of the individuals had first entered Panda Express around 10:30 PM but were told the restaurant was closed.  Denise also stated that she thinks the shooter was the individual wearing a black jacket.

Denise said that it took twelve to fifteen minutes for an ambulance to arrive.  One would think Lopez would have been transported to Sherman Oaks Hospital, less than a mile away.  But Sherman Oaks is not a trauma center.  Raul was taken over ten miles away to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.  Dr. Lobo pronounced Lopez dead at two minutes after midnight.

KTLA reported:
His wife, Guadalupe Lopez, made a plea in Spanish at a news conference on Tuesday, saying that she has five young children.
"He was a very responsible man," his oldest son, Melesio Lopez, said. "He loved his family... and I just want justice."
LA WEEKLY reported:
One witness in particular (who wishes to stay anonymous so the perps don't come back and shoot him as well) says in an NBC LA video interview that he saw Lopez and the customers "fencing with chairs" before the shooting.
Police now believe the Hoagies and Wings employee was trying to shoo them from the restaurant.
Another witness turned out to be pretty high-profile. Alex Mandell, L.A. actor and son of Howie Mandell, Tweeted from the scene:

News reports indicate Raul leaves behind a wife and five children, four of them aged six and under.

Raul Lopez, undated.

Detective James Nuttall described Lopez as the sole provider for his family.  He was a well-liked, hard worker who had been employed at Hoagies & Wings for about two years.  He was considered a good employee who took the bus to work.  He was not the individual in charge of the restaurant that night, but was an older, more senior figure in the restaurant. Raul's wife, Guadalupe Gomez-Lopez did not work, which leaves the family in a precarious financial situation.  Hoagies & Wings CEO Akida Mashaka made a statement that a memorial fund is being set up for his family and that donation boxes have been established at the Sherman Oaks and La Cienega locations.  

Nuttall stated it is unknown why Raul took it upon himself to escort the disruptive group out of the restaurant to deescalate the situation when other patrons got up to leave.  Lopez's take charge decision ultimately ended his life.  

Van Nuys Homicide Unit is investigating the case and can use your help.  If you have any information, please contact the detectives at (818) 374-9500. Press Release
Daily News Report
ABC Report

Joe Paterno Statue at Penn State to Come Down

Joe Paterno statue on Pennsylvania State University campus. 
Photo cr: New York Daily News.

UPDATE 11:30 AM:
ESPN Reports School President to decide on Paterno Statue.

UPDATE 10:00 AM:   Bonnie Bernstein tweeted:
So the decision may not be final yet. Sigh.

 While everyone is reeling from the news of lone gunman, James Holmes, 24, in a deadly mass shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight in Aurora, Colorado, --at least 12 dead and 50 injured-- there's news out of Penn State: is reporting that the statue of Joe Paterno will come down this weekend.

ESPN Sportscaster, Bonnie Bernstein tweeted:

T&T believes removing the statue is the best decision in light of the Freeh Report revelations.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Freeh Report: A Penn State Tragedy

Sara Ganim

If you still don't know who Sarah Ganim is, she won a Pulitzer for her ground breaking coverage of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.  Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child molestation, child endangerment.

I'm still trying to pick myself up off the floor from the Freeh Report revelations about "JoPa" Joe Paterno, university president Graham Spanier, senior vice-president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley. The red flags and missed opportunities are jaw dropping.

My friend Matthew McGough directed me to this excellent, thoughtful analysis by Jason Whitlock, who stated in his article:
The Four Horsemen of Penn State’s Apocalypse — Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz, the men rightfully vilified in Louis Freeh’s Last Judgment — concealed Sandusky’s vile behavior because they understood, and, yes, sympathized with his inability to control his sexual demons.

The Penn State tragedy is a disaster rooted in sexism and man’s lack of sexual control.

We think with the wrong head.
 (snip) could scan the globe and it would be impossible to find four women who climbed the leadership ladder within a major institution who would conspire to protect a child molester.
T&T couldn't agree more.

Is it any surprise that it was a lone, female reporter, who dug deep, followed her instincts and broke the story about Jerry Sandusky?  HERE Sara outlines how the Freeh Report was able to come to a starkly different conclusion about Joe Paterno that the state's grand jury investigation.

pennlive Jerry Sandusky Coverage

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Going to Court: Gerhard Becker, Kelly Soo Park, Lonnie Franklin, Jr., Etc.

 "Grim Sleeper" Lonnie David Franklin, Jr., 
alleged serial killer on July 8th, 2010. Photo: KTLA.

UPDATE: spelling, clarity

July 11th, 2012
I drove into downtown Los Angeles yesterday morning to attend pre trial hearings in the Kelly Soo Park case, as well as Lonnie Franklin, Jr.'s case, dubbed "The Grim Sleeper" back in 2008 by the LA Weekly's Christine Pelisek.  Here is wikipedia's page on Franklin and there is also a web site dedicated to all things 'Grim Sleeper', apparently run by a Brit across the pond.  Franklin is an alleged serial killer, who targeted victims in South Los Angeles. Park is charged with the 2008 murder of Juliana Redding.  I missed the June 11th hearing in Park's case, however, blogger Lonce LaMon has also been covering Juliana Redding's murder.

My car-- that had a cerebral aneurysm back on February 6th --is finally running like a dream again.  An engine shop rebuilt the head and Mr. Sprocket recently overhauled the air-conditioning system. It's so nice to have wheels again and not have to ride in the White Whale Work Truck to the train or bus station.

As I start my walk up Broadway from the budget parking lot to the rear entrance of the criminal court building, I realize how quickly I've gotten out of shape by not going to court and getting in a daily brisk walk.   Memo to self, I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get walking again.

As I start to approach the corner of First and Broadway, all the construction walls are down around the LA Law Library and the entire building is now a eye-popping burnt orange.  Although I'm across the street, it appears that the half walls around the front entrance stairs on First Street are dressed in dull black stone -- but it could be colored cement; I can't tell.  I'm still debating on whether I like the new look of the building or not.  The color really makes you step back and go "Whoa!"

Behind the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, (CJC) construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the new "Grand Park" that extends across Broadway behind the Hall of Records and beyond to Grand Avenue.  The previous "court of flags" flag poles are already repositioned along Broadway from their original location directly behind the Hall of Records. The construction screens are down from around the back entrance of CJC and I get my first view of this portion of the new park space.

It's about 8:10 AM, and as I enter the security screening line, I see handsome LAPD Robbery - Homicide Division (RHD) Detective Dan Jaramillo from the Stephanie Lazarus case carrying a thick, heavy looking binder.  I smile and give him a little wave, and he smiles back as he walks past me to the entrance for officers.  As I reach the elevator bay, the area is packed.  There are two elevators that have lights lit up but the doors are closed; a good bet that they might not be working.  One could easily wait 20 minutes or more for a crammed sardine space in these ancient lifts.  (The elevators in this building are a curse. They are outdated and need to be replaced, but the county is broke and closing courtrooms; more on that in a bit.) With the packed elevator lobby, I quickly see I need to pick an elevator, stand in front of it and just wait.  The hope is the elevator you're standing in front of will open sooner rather than much later.

I finally get on the 9th floor and clear security.  I make my way down the right wing of the hallway to Department 109, Judge Kathleen Kennedy's courtroom.  There are only a few people waiting in the hall and one of them is wearing a juror badge.  After a few moments I see Detective Jaramillo standing down by the center of the hallway, directly in front of Dept. 104, Judge Perry's courtroom.  Jaramillo is chatting with a man sitting on the bench wearing a dark shirt and the word 'POLICE' in bright yellow across the back.  I know that Jaramillo is no longer in RHD's "Homicide Special." He's now in the sister-unit Robbery Special.  I'm betting he's here to testify in a robbery case in Perry's court.

As my eyes are wandering around this end of the hallway, I notice that next door to Judge Kennedy's courtroom, there is a newspaper article taped to Judge Lance Ito's courtroom door. It's an article from the Orange County Register with a very large photo of Judge Ito and a sub heading in the article highlighted indicating that Judge Ito's courtroom is closing.  With the budget crisis facing the state and virtually every county, the Los Angeles County Superior Court has cut back staff and closed courtrooms.  I don't know anything about the Superior Court's decision making process as to which courtrooms to close, but sources tell me there was no private notification given to Judge Ito; there was just a mass E-mail sent out notifying court staff of the closures.  I believe his last courtroom day was Friday, July 6th.  Although Ito has lost his courtroom and staff, he's still a working Judge.  It's my understanding he will be assigned administrative tasks and fill in for a courtroom when there is an absence.

The District Attorney's office calendar notice for today indicated there was a hearing in Dept. 107, Judge Michael Pastor's courtroom (the other end of the long hallway) in the Christian Gerhartstreiter case today.  I thought that I might spot a bunch of media down there but that end of the hallway was just as vacant.  (Unfortunately, I'm only one person; I can't be in two courtrooms at once.)

An ABC reporter shows up talking on their smart phone.  I overhear him mention "Lisa" and I'm betting he's talking about my friend Lisa Tomaselli, a producer with ABC's 20/20.  When he sits down beside me I chat with him a bit.

A pretty bottle blond wearing quite a figure revealing outfit of pants and a white linen top strolls down this end of the hallway. She has a pink protector case for the smart phone she's holding in her hand.  With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, I know immediately that she's with some news agency, but I've never seen her before.

During the Conrad Murray preliminary hearing and subsequent trial, there used to be signs up every couple yards notifying people no photography allowed.  Most are all gone now but there is still one small 8 x 11 sign up at this end of the hallway.  The bottle blond gets up from her bench seat across the hall from me, stands in the middle of the hallway and aims her smart phone at the courtroom doors for Department's 101 and 102, clearly taking a picture.  I immediately speak up and tell her she can't take photographs.  She first responds to me with, "That's only inside the courtrooms."  (I will not share the negative thought that went through my head at that moment.)  I inform her, "You can't photograph anywhere inside the building."  She goes back and sits down on her bench seat and is looking at her smart phone. With my past experience of being photographed in this same hallway and all the drama that surrounded that event, I also add, "You can't publish that."  She responds back with, "I know what I'm doing," and I successfully stifle myself from laughing out loud.

Over the last ten minutes or so, several of Kelly Soo Park's supporters show up.  Park arrives on the floor around 8:30 AM.  Kelly receives hugs from several of her supporters.  She's wearing tasteful black slacks and black heels. Her blouse has blue and white narrow pinstripes, long-sleeves with stark white cuffs, collar and placket.  Her counsel George W. Buehler and Mark M. Kassabian arrive not long after.  The courtroom finally opens and Park and most everyone else in the hallway enters Dept. 109.  At first, I wait in the hallway a bit to see who from the prosecution team will be attending the hearing.  There was an older black woman on the hallway bench next to mine, who was talking on her cell phone when I first arrived.  I overheard her mention that she would be at each and every court hearing for the "Grim Sleeper." I'm betting that she is related to one of his many victims.  When the courtroom opened she entered Dept. 109 and took a seat in the second row next to me.

Already inside the well of the court are Franklin's attorney's.  The one male attorney I've seen several times in Dept. 30.  I'm betting he is not with the public defender's office, but along with his co-counsel, a woman, has been assigned by the court to represent Franklin. (When the hearing was over I followed them out and obtained their business cards:  Seymour I. Amster, office in Van Nuys and Louisa Pensanti, office in Sherman Oaks.

As I take a seat in the second row, two more older black women enter and greet the woman who is sitting to my left.  It's a good bet these are relatives of Franklin's many victims.  Judge Kennedy's same bailiff she had during the James Fayed case is still assigned to her courtroom.  Another female bailiff enters and I watch both sheriff's put their weapons inside the wall mounted black security box before they enter the jail area for a short time.

Santa Monica Detective Karen Thompson enters and takes a seat in the well of the court near the podium.  Lisa Tomaselli enters the courtroom and greets Park.  I catch her eye, she smiles and comes over to sit next to me.  I'm happy to see her and we catch up on what's new.  Lisa's crew is waiting for their cameraman to show up.  They have a formal media request in with Judge Kennedy to film the proceedings.  Kennedy is a more modern judge and she signs the order but the bailiff warns Lisa's associate that the camera operator has to be here on time and all set up in the jury box before Judge Kennedy takes the bench.  Apparently, the cameraman is stuck either in the lobby or an elevator.

As I look around the courtroom, I see the pretty Dateline producer "Luce" (sp?) in the back row near the door.  DDA Eric Harmon enters the courtroom.  I'm surprised because I thought he would have been sworn in as a new judge by now.  Harmon, Thompson and the defense team leave the courtroom via the door by the jury box.  It's likely they are all going to the jury room to speak privately.

More people show up for the Franklin hearing and Lisa and I scoot down to make room for them so they can all sit together.  While we wait, DDA Beth Sliverman enters Dept 109 and greets the many people in the gallery. At first, I didn't recognize her.  Silverman and her co-counsel, another woman whose name I miss hearing are prosecuting Franklin.

I guess that since the Kelly Soo Park case attorneys are still outside the courtroom, the bailiff's bring out Lonnie Franklin first.  Judge Kennedy comes out and takes the bench. She has lost more weight and looks fantastic.  She actually looks younger.

Lonnie Franklin, Jr.
Amster starts off by claiming the prosecution's office has not provided the defense with all the discovery they said they did.  He tried contacting the prosecutor and asking for the specific page numbers (Bate stamp numbers) but these two were never able to reach a connection.  It appears there is a name of an individual that the defense states the prosecution did not give them any documentation on.  (The defense says the name is Sharm (sp?) DeSmoki (sp?) the prosecution contends there is a separate murder book for a Sharon (sp?) Demukey (sp?) but I can't find a similar name attached to Lonnie Franklin on the web.)

When one party wanted a call back on a certain date, the other wasn't available.  Because of this, the defense now is asking for another month to go back through all their discovery to locate the pages they feel the prosecution didn't give them.  There's a bit of back and forth from the defense and prosecution.

Judge Kennedy finally has enough of it and tells them in an I've had enough of this tone, "You're acting like children! (snip) I'm ordering you to go upstairs and work this out. (snip) I don't want this to be a personality driven case. (snip) Leave your ego at the door! (snip) I want you four to get together and figure out who this (person?) is and be back here in half an hour.

Kelly Soo Park
So while this is going on, ABC is in luck. Their cameraman finally shows up.  DDA Harmon and Park's counsel are still in the jury room but not long after Judge Kennedy leaves the bench they emerge and have a sidebar with Judge Kennedy.  I think I overhear the words "...set a date.."

The case now goes on the record.  Judge Kennedy states the defense is making a request for more discovery.  I believe Harmon states he's filed his own motion and needs further time to (research? reference?) and see (?)...

It's a good guess that the private discussion had to do with DNA that the defense want to test that the people have control over.  Timing is everything.  That evidence has to be turned over and I'm guessing, an individual chosen to observe the defense testing, or an outside lab selected that is acceptable by both parties.

My notes don't state who specifically mentions that there are other discovery issues that the prosecution and defense are working out informally (regarding? testing?) and won't need to involve the court.

Judge Kennedy asks how soon the parties can bring this case to trial.

One of the defense attorneys states they have another trial already scheduled for mid November, "But we would target this case after that case...." 

I believe the defense mentions a return date of August 17th to keep the case tracked and the calendar set at 0-60 on that date.  Judge Kennedy mentions something about more forensic testing if the defense seeks for it to be tested.  She addresses Park and asks her if she waives her right to a speedy trial, to return to court on August 17th.  Park answers, "Yes."

At some point, Judge Kennedy asks Harmon about the prosecution's readiness, once he is off the case and Harmon informs the court that the prosecution is ready with another attorney to step in and take over.  His leaving will not affect the prosecution's readiness to proceed.

And that's it for Park.

Gerhard Becker, Vanity Fair Photo Shoot
I head toward the elevators looking for my friend Matthew McGough who was on the 5th floor in Dept. 30, following the Becker case.  I find him in the elevator bay, chatting with Detective Dan Jaramillo, who had just finished testifying in Judge Perry's courtroom in a multi-robbery case. Matthew quickly gets me up to speed on Becker. The preliminary hearing was supposed to start today but that's been set aside.  Becker has obtained new counsel, Donald Re. (I could not find a business web page for him. Sprocket.) I take the opportunity to ask Dan several questions about the Vanity Fair photo shoot with photographer Platon (pronounced Plah-tone), who Vanity Fair flew out from New York to take his and Detective Greg Stearns photo. Mark Bowden was not present for the photography sessions with the detectives.  I make sure to tell Dan that at least one T&T reader was glad to see the easy on the eyes photo of him.

With his new counsel notification accepted by the court, Becker's next hearing is now scheduled for September 6th, 2012 in Dept. 30. 

Lonnie Franklin, Jr., Part II
After saying goodbye to Detective Jaramillo, Matthew and I pass through 9th floor security and back towards Dept. 109 for the Franklin hearing.  Interestingly Assistant District Attorney Pat Dixon  enters Dept. 109 alongside Beth Silverman.  Once Matthew and I take a seat inside Dept. 109, I ask Matthew if he knows the names of the LAPD detectives who are here.  Matthew points out RHD Detective Dennis Kilcoyne (pronounced kill-coin) who he believes worked on the Grim Sleeper task force.  Matthew also said that Kilcoyne was a detective at Hollywood Homicide with Rick Jackson before joining RHD.

Back on the record, Amster tells Judge Kennedy that after meeting with the prosecutors they believe they will be able to resolve the earlier issue by this afternoon.  Amster states they will come up with a procedure to deal with discovery issues and won't have to litigate them in front of Judge Kennedy in the future.

There is some discussion about having the defense investigators meet with the prosecution's investigators.  The defense is suggesting a return date of August 29th for the court to monitor the case and time to file additional motions.  Silverman states that date is not good since she's out of town.  There's a bit of back and forth to pick a new date and August 30th is agreed with the calendar clock set at 0-60 on that date.  Franklin is asked if he waives his right to a speedy trial and to return to court on that date.  "Yes, your honor," Franklin replies.

Judge Kennedy then asks the parties if they have a realistic estimate as to the length of the trial.  The defense first states, "No, your honor."  After a few more questions from Judge Kennedy, Amster feels that this will be a six month trial.  Silverman's estimate is that it will be a two-to-three month case.  Silverman adds that it's a forensic case. There's not a ton of witnesses that are not experts..."

Judge Kennedy asks the parties to seriously consider pre screened jurors and the defense and prosecution agree with that.  And that was it for Franklin. 

Dropping in on Dept. 104, Judge Perry's Courtroom
Matthew asked if I was interested in dropping in on Judge Perry's courtroom to hear a bit of the case that Detective Jaramillo was involved in.  We enter as quietly as we can and sit in the back row.  One of the first things I notice is that there are only 14 jurors in the jury box.  This tells me that it's not a murder case.

There is a witness on the stand and a video up on the overhead screen of a robbery in progress.  It's video from a security camera inside the cash vault/office of a ROSS Dress for Less store.  The witness on the stand identifies one of the defendants "Williams" as the one who tied her up (she's in the video) and had the gun.  Here's the story I was able to gather from testimony.  An (former?) employee of the Ross stores and a (former?) employee of Dominoes Pizza hatch a plan to rob several Ross Dress for Less stores.  I believe a total of five stores were targeted on two different days (one on the Fourth of July and the others over Labor Day, 2010). Three robbery attempts were successful.  The witness on the stand indicated the tally for the robbery of her store was approximately $45,000.00, a typical amount for a three-day holiday.

The plan went like this.  The robbers entered the store wearing Dominoes Pizza uniforms provided by the (former?) Dominoes employee.  The robbers enter the store and claim that Ross upper management (knowing the names of several corporate managers via the (former?) Ross employee) has, ordered Pizza's for specific employees (I'm guessing those who were in charge of the office/vault).  Once they gained entry to the office cash vault area, they robbed the store. The witness on the stand testifies about picking one of the defendants out of a photo array.

In my opinion, the store employees who were robbed were lucky no one was injured.

When the morning break is called, Matthew goes over to chat with Judge Perry's court reporter, Beth, where the topic quickly turns to the next court staff cutbacks that are expected at the end of the year.

After we say our goodbyes to Beth, we make our way to the back of the building to visually take in the section of Grand Park behind CJC.  I'm not impressed with the new space at all.  A few small trees, one decent sized tree, a few cement paths, not nearly enough benches.  The county did not need a park here.  There was plenty of public space around City Hall.  What the public needed was an adequate parking facility to service CJC to replace the parking lot that used to be in the same space.  Affordable budget parking for CJC is at best two blocks away, up an incline but I guess a "park" looks better that a parking structure.

The Freeh Report on Pennsylvania State University

UPDATE: Correct spelling error in title Freeh Report; thank you T&T readers!

HERE IS THE LINK to download the PDF copy of the above Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Jerry Sandusky.

Read it and weep.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Going to Court: Dept. 30 III - Gerhard Becker & Other Cases

Real-life responsibilities helping Mr. Sprocket with is business (as well as my series review of Mark Bowden's Curious Vanity Fair Article) have delayed the posting of this entry.  Sprocket 

May 18th, 2012, Gerhard Becker
Becker is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of veteran firefighter Glenn Allen, who died responding to a fire at Becker's Hollywood hillside mansion.

At the last Gerhard Becker hearing my friends Matthew McGough and Thomas Broersma and I heard DDA Carney tell Judge Torrealba they may be close to a settlement.  I was quite surprised and didn't see what offering there could be for an involuntary manslaughter case.  It's a good bet that for any settlement, the LAFD and victim's widow would have to be in agreement with the proffer.

When I arrived on the 5th floor at downtown criminal court building, Gerhard Becker was out in the hallway sitting by himself.  I didn't see his ankle bracelet, but I'm sure it was on him.

When I get inside Dept 30, I see that the interesting walrus mustache man who I saw during my first visit is back at a desk in the well. Vania Stuelp (now with local ABC 7) is also here but they are tracking the Mila Kunis stalker who is set to appear in court today.  If it involves a celebrity, the mainstream media is on it like, well, you get the idea.

A few attorneys introduce themselves to each other in the well at the foreign language interpreter's desk.  Several attorneys are lined up at Judge Torrealba's clerks desk on the far left.  The LAPD Bond Desk area is empty.  No one is in yet, it appears.

I notice the pretty female deputy that was in Judge Perry's courtroom is here.  Terri Keith from City News also shows up.  She's probably here for Becker AND the Kunis stalker.  I can't say enough nice things about Terri Keith.  It would take three people to replace her.

When Matthew arrives we debate on whether or not the large vase of flowers to the right of Judge Torrealba's desk are real or not.  I'm betting they are fake.  They are a type of flower that looks like something similar to a lily, and I know in the flower shops they are expensive to buy a single stem.

I'm marveling at an older gentleman, obviously an attorney, walking back and forth in the well.  He's balding with an impressive white mustache, horn-rimmed glasses and is wearing five different colors of pastels.  It must be an omen.  The suit is pale green, his kerchief is pink, he has on a pale, eggshell blue hat, his tie an odd mix of violet, maroon and pink, and pinned to his lapel is a small 3" pink teddy bear.

The seats in the gallery are almost filled.  Quite a few attorneys are still standing around in the gallery and in the well of the court.  Matthew gets up to take a peek out in the hallway.  I note that there are two new language interpreters sitting at the desks in the well to my right.

Francis Young, co-counsel with Sean Carney is here.  As usual, she's an impeccable dresser and has a sleek, slender appearance.  She's wearing a short-waisted tan jacket with a black skirt.  Her glasses are on a cord around her neck. She's wearing a multi-layered gold chain necklace and a large gold and black bracelet on her left wrist.  It's quite tasteful jewelry.

Young's co-counsel is in several shades of gray.  His shirt is a light sliver gray and his tie is tannish-gold.  Becker's counsel Chad Levin is wearing a light blue shirt, red tie and a very dark gray, almost black suit.

There's a bit of bustle in the "fish cage" as defendants wait for their cases to be called.

9:45 AM Young, Carney and Lewin have an off--the-record side conference with Judge Torrealba.  Directly after that, Judge Torrealba goes on the record to set a preliminary hearing date of Wednesday, July 11th, 2012; on that date or withing two days of that date.  Becker's bond still stands and he's ordered back for his preliminary hearing on that date.  The hearing was quick and there wasn't anything else to drop in on so I decide to head home.

In the elevator bay, atthew and I are waiting for an elevator and Becker is in the elevator bay waiting also. No one else is there. Matthew takes the plunge and introduces himself to Becker, Matthew informs Becker he might be writing about his case.  Becker smiles, shakes Matthew's hand, but doesn't offer up much.  Matthew tries another opening, asking Becker if he follows football. Becker seems at first confused, then Matthew clarifies "soccer."  Becker doesn't take the bait to talk much beyond smiles and pleasantries.

I wonder on the way home what happened to that possible "settlement" at the last hearing.  Maybe that will be revealed on July 11th.

Today, I found out that Becker had another preliminary hearing on June 20th.  His next hearing is still this week on July 11th. 

Stephanie Lazarus
I am still working on my entry about Lazarus from the perspective of those who knew her.

There are several other hearings on July 11th, all at the same time and I can't possibly attend them all.  They are all in the morning, at 8:30 am.  Kelly Soo Park and Lonnie Franklin, Jr., (Grim Sleeper) both have pre trial hearings in Dept. 109, Judge Kathleen Kennedy's court.  Down at the other end of the hallway on the 9th floor,  Christian Gerhartsreiter has a pre trial hearing in Dept. 107, Judge Michael Pastor's court.

T&T Now On Twitter

If you look at the top right you will see a link to follow T&T on Twitter.  I finally fell to peer pressure and joined this social network.  I'm still in the dark ages and it may take me a while to get up to speed.  Sometimes all one can do is to take baby steps putting one foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July #236

As you plan your holiday today, I thought I would bring T&T readers some little known facts about our nation's beginnings.

July 4th is the day we historically celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. However, there are online sources that indicate our independence was declared on July 2nd, and the document signed a month later on August 2nd.

 This is our 236th year as an independent nation, however, the Army was formed a year earlier.

One of our basic freedoms we enjoy today is freedom of the press, which is part of the First Amendment to our constitution.

There are some historical myths about the Fourth of July and whether or not "Betsy Ross" sewed our nation's first flag.

I guess there will always be those who will believe a story because of who told it, or because it's more interesting than the truth. Although I started T&T over five years ago as an online diary of attending a murder trial, myself and the rest of T&T's contributors pride ourselves on getting the story right and reporting the facts as accurately as possible.

Stay safe and enjoy your holiday. I'll leave you with a favorite quote:

American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.  Edward R. Murrow

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fact Checking Mark Bowden's Curious Vanity Fair Article on Stephanie Lazarus, Part III

Editorial cartoon © 2012 by Thomas Broersma ( All rights reserved by the artist. Full disclosure: This drawing is satire, not investigative journalism. It is unknown if CA inmate # WE4479 is a Vanity Fair subscriber.

Complete Series on Fact Checking Mark Bowden's Article HERE.

Continued from Part II...

I am not a famous writer. I don't have an editor, a fact-checker, or an unlimited budget.

I'm just a semi-retired housewife with a blog. However, I attended every hearing in the Lazarus case since February 2011. Watching the trial and getting to know many of the people impacted by Sherri Rasmussen's murder was an extremely intense and heart wrenching experience. I have such respect for the Rasmussen family, the attorneys, and all the LAPD detectives who worked on this case.

Since I published Part I and Part 2 of my review of Mark Bowden's article on the Lazarus case in the current issue of Vanity Fair, several T&T readers have asked if Mark Bowden attended the trial. As far as I know, Bowden did not attend a single court hearing between Stephanie's arrest in June 2009 and her sentencing in May 2012.

Robbery-Homicide Division Detectives Gregory Stearns and Dan Jaramillo are the stars of Bowden's article.  As anyone who's watched the video knows, their interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus was masterful and truly one for the textbooks. Reading the article, I found it strange that Bowden repeatedly got inside Stephanie's head, but not Stearns or Jaramillo. Bowden does not quote either RHD detective, except off the video tape which Judge Perry released to the public in November 2010.

Given the curious absence of Stearns and Jaramillo's personal perspectives, I had to wonder: Did Bowden interview them about their experience that day? So I made a few calls.

I began with Detective Stearns. I can confirm that he was not interviewed for the Vanity Fair article.

I then decided to dig a little deeper, and can report to my readers that none of the following people were interviewed by Bowden:
  • Robbery-Homicide Detective Dan Jaramillo.
  • Detectives Rob Bub, James Nuttall, Marc Martinez or Pete Barba (the Van Nuys Homicide Unit that solved the case).
  • Retired LAPD Detective Phil Morritt (who apparently checked out physical evidence in 1993).
  • Anyone in the Rasmussen family: Nels, Loretta, or Sherri's sisters, Teresa and Connie.
  • John Ruetten, Sherri Rasmussen's widower.
  • Jayne Goldberg, Sherri's closest friend.  
  • Deputy District Attorneys Shannon Presby or Paul Nunez.
  • John Taylor, the Rasmussen family attorney.
  • Stephanie Lazarus' defense attorney Mark Overland.
  • Stephanie Lazarus.
Since Bowden didn’t attend the trial, and didn’t interview any of the principals above, it begs the question: What did Mark Bowden base his article on?  The article doesn't say, and this Vanity Fair reader would love to know.

....Continued in Part IV....