Three men are accused of triple killing

Black gang members are charged in last year’s shooting of two Latino boys and an adult in what was dubbed the 49th Street Massacre.
By Richard Winton
Times Staff Writer

April 24, 2007

Prosecutors charged three black gang members Monday with killing two Latino boys and an adult standing in the frontyard of a South Los Angeles home, saying the assailants picked the victims at random while searching for rival gang members.

The charges cap a nearly one-year investigation, with Los Angeles Police Department detectives concluding that the members of the Rollin’ 30s gang fired at the victims — who had no gang ties — while driving around the neighborhood looking for members of the Eastside Trece.

The shooting, dubbed the 49th Street Massacre by Police Chief William J. Bratton, stirred concerns about race-related violence in South L.A., especially at a time when the LAPD says that race-motivated gang crimes are on the increase.

But Bratton and LAPD brass insist that the shooting was not race-motivated, but fueled by a gang feud. Law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, said detectives believe the assailants mistook the victims as members of the Eastside Trece.

The suspects — identified as Lawrence William Island Jr., 24; Ryan T. Moore, 33; and Charles Ray Smith, 38 — allegedly got out of a vehicle on 49th Street and fired more than 30 shots from two AK-47-style assault rifles on the afternoon of June 30.

Island was arrested in January on unrelated charges; Moore was arrested earlier this month; and Smith was captured Monday afternoon. Each faces three counts of murder, with the special circumstance of multiple murder and murder to further a gang, and one count each of attempted premeditated murder.

In addition, a woman identified as Alicia Patrice Merceron, 23 — believed to have been the getaway driver — was charged Oct. 19 in the murders, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Glaviano said the shootings occurred as the three Rollin’ 30s gang members were in the neighborhood looking for some rivals.

The Rollin’ 30s is one of the top 11 gangs being targeted by the LAPD as part of a wider push against gang violence in the city.

LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division detectives determined that what at first looked like a drive-by shooting now appears to have been a calculated slaying.

They concluded that the gunmen got out of a car and approached each of the victims, firing from point-blank range with the assault-style rifles.

Police had few initial leads but said a video security camera caught a glimpse of the shooters’ vehicle on Central Avenue moments after the killings. That eventually led detectives to be able to identify the driver.

Detectives spent months on the streets interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses and tracking potential suspects.

“We believe strongly we have the people involved in these murders,” said Capt. Kyle Jackson, head of the Robbery-Homicide Division, which investigated the killings. “The detectives did a truly outstanding job. It was a very difficult case. They knocked on a lot of doors to identify these individuals.”

In the wake of the shootings, activists — concerned that the violence might be race-related — held a meeting of black and Latino leaders to address long-standing tensions between the two communities and held unity candlelight vigils.

The shooting was part of a spike in gang-related violence on the streets of L.A. last year, the first after years of decline. In response, the LAPD and other agencies launched a crackdown this year that focused particularly on gangs with a track record for racially motivated violence.

In addition to this case, officials have expressed horror at the killing of a black girl in the Harbor Gateway section of Los Angeles by a Latino gang that had also harassed other blacks in the neighborhood.

The slaying on 49th Street generated attention in part because the victims had stayed away from gang life.

David Marcial, 10, was a fourth-grader at Hooper Elementary School. His uncle, Larry Marcial, 22, a father of two, was an aspiring singer of corridos, or Mexican ballads, and was included on a CD with other singers. The shooting came as Marcial was about to release a recording, according to the producer, who said he had hoped it would launch Marcial’s career.

The third victim, 17-year-old Luis Cervantes, was a junior at Johnson High School and a neighbor of the Marcials.

“These were not gang members. These were just kids,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in announcing a $105,000 reward in the killings. “It is just absolutely obscene that people would just shoot kids this way — with automatic weapons, multiple times, even when they were on the ground. It’s outrageous.”

Robison, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, said that given the special circumstances of the case, the defendants would be eligible for the death penalty. But a decision on whether to seek that sanction would be made by prosecutors later, she said.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area, said the charges were “a relief and a huge step toward bringing some closure for the family, and it will enable them to move forward in their life and begin to heal. This was a horrific act. Just wanton killings.”

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