Riverside County

Former JLWOP Inmate Sara Kruzan

In 1994 Sara Kruzan  robbed and murdered George Gilbert Howard, a man who had been her pimp/boyfriend who she referred to as  GG.  She had left Howard a week before the murder  to  move  in with another boyfriend and pimp#2 named James Hamilton, who was a convicted felon and suspected drug dealer.  Kruzan  contacted Howard on March 9th for a date and lured him to a motel promising  to spend the night with him. On March 10, Kruzan shot Howard in the neck from behind  at the Dynasty Suites Motel. She then stole $1,500  and the keys to his sports car from him, leaving his body at the motel.  Sara then met Hamilton and another boyfriend, Johnny Otis in a supermarket.   Her identification card and purse  were found in the motel room.

After she was arrested on March 14th, she  admitted her guilt in a police interview. At the trial, she took the stand and testified she had killed Howard, but claimed for the first time that she had killed him after Hamilton ordered her to do it with death threats against her and her mother if she didn’t follow his orders.  Neither Hamilton nor Otis were charged with the crime as there was insufficient  corroborating evidence to support Kruzan’s statement.

On Thursday May 11, 1995, a Riverside Superior Court jury of seven women and five men found her guilty of First-Degree murder affirming two special circumstances – that Howard was murdered during a robbery, and that Kruzan had been lying in wait to kill him – to justify a no-parole life term.[2] Judge J. Thompson Hanks described her crime as ‘well thought out’, stating that ‘what is striking about this is the lack of moral scruple’ before sentencing her to life without parole.

In February 2010 her habeus corpus appeal was quickly denied. As Governor Schwarzenegger left office he granted her clemency and reduced her sentence to 25 years with parole, after an intensive campaign led by Sen. Leland Yee on her behalf in which she was represented as a human trafficking victim. NOVJL believes that Ms. Kruzan’s change in sentence shows that the system can work without the retroactive parole reviews that Senator Yee is proposing in the legislature.

Now Ms. Kruzan is seeking a pardon from newly installed Governor Jerry Brown.

JLWOP  Inmate Jerrett  Lewis

A Palm Springs gang member convicted in the fatal beating and robbery of a 66-year-old security guard was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the June 9, 2007, attack on Bower Security Co. guard Wallace “Danny” Brown

Lewis was a juvenile at the time of the crime and cannot be given the death penalty.

A second co-defendant, Jamar Thomas, 21, was previously convicted of first-degree murder. A jury declined to recommend a death sentence for Thomas, who was sentenced  to life in prison without parole.

Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante has said the victim’s attackers were Gateway Posse Crips gang members who snuck up on Brown’s van, which was parked at a construction site in northern Palm Springs. The prosecutor alleged that  Lewis and Thomas hurled rocks at the van, shattering the windows, before pulling the guard from the vehicle and beating him for his wallet and cell phone.   KESQ  news story

JLWOP Inmate Jesus Albert Castillo

On  May 21, 2010, a gang member was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2007 stabbing death of a man at a Riverside apartment complex. Jesus Albert Castillo, DOB: 4-2-89, of Riverside was convicted in December 2009 of first-degree murder and the attempted murder of a second victim. The jury found true the enhancement that  Castillo committed the murder to benefit a criminal street gang.

On Feb. 16, 2007, the murder victim, Gerard Phillips, drove with three others, including his brother-in law and fellow victim, Joseph Faciane, to the North Point Apartments in Riverside. Faciane was confronted by two men, including Castillo, who asked him where he was from, a phrase commonly used by gang members to see if someone belongs to a gang. Faciane replied he did not “gang bang,” meaning he claims no gang membership. Castillo then shouted a gang reference and lunged toward Faciane as if he was going to hit him. Faciane hit Castillo and the two men began to fight.

A second defendant with Castillo, Raul Eduardo Delcid, also jumped into the fight. During the fight, Phillips and Faciane were stabbed multiple times by Castillo. Phillips died and Faciane, who received about 20 staples to help repair his injuries, survived his wounds.

Co-defendant Delcid, DOB: 9-7-90, of Riverside, was convicted in July 2008 of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and criminal street gang activity. He was sentenced in May 2009 to 25 years to life in prison.

Published in news release issued by Riverside County DA’s Office

JLWOP Inmate Mario Ivan Soto

It took a Riverside County jury about two hours Thursday to convict Mario Ivan Soto, a Westside Rivas gang member, of first-degree murder for the Aug. 17, 2005, shooting death of a rival gang member. Jurors also found true a special circumstance that the murder was a gang crime, leading to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Soto.

The main gang rivalry in the Rubidoux area is between the Westside Project Crips and the Westside Riva. The Project Crips or “PJs” are a predominantly black, multigenerational street gang, and the Westside Riva is a predominantly Hispanic street gang

Soto was 17 years old when he shot the victim, Dijuan Jones, 22, four times, including two fatal shots to his back as Jones fell to the ground. Both Soto and Jones lived in the Rudidoux area of Riverside County and had known each other since childhood. but were in rival gangs.

The murder happened outside a business where the victim was having stereo equipment installed in his car. When Jones saw Soto drive by, he sent his girlfriend and children home out of concern for their safety. Soto came back a short time later, hid his face with a hooded sweatshirt and approached the victim with a .45-caliber handgun.

Jones tried to calm the situation and the two spoke for about 10 minutes. Jones and Soto shook hands and the victim had turned to walk away when Soto fired the deadly shots. This murder was committed as part of ongoing violent warfare between the two rival gangs and to further and benefit the criminal activities of Westside Rivas.

JLWOP Inmates Natalie DeMola and Terry Bell

Natalie DeMola plotted with her boyfriend Terry Bell and his friend Christopher Long to .kill her mother, rob her, and make it look like some random burglar did it.  Natalie, an honor student and champion swimmer, and her boyfriend had plotted to kill Kim DeMola for at least two months and had bought a set of walkie-talkies to talk to each other while the crime was being committed.  They recruited Long, a friend of Bell’s, by promising him a share of money and other loot from the DeMola home. On April 10, 2001 they carried out their plot and murdered Kim DeMola.

Natalie stood at an upstairs bedroom window of the family’s home, while Terry, and friend Christopher, beat 47-year-old Kim DeMola with their fists.  Natalie DeMola ignored her mother’s screams for help and then ordered Bell and Long to “finish the job” by beating in her mother’s head with a 25-pound floor lamp.

Minutes after the crime, DeMola ran a stop sign and hit a pick-up truck carrying an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.When DeMola returned to the scene of the accident without the two boys that were clearly seen by the investigator, and telling the cops that there was a robbery in progress at her house, it aroused suspicion.

When police arrived at the house, they found Kim DeMola unconscious in a pool of her own blood. She had tried to escape the house through the sliding glass door in the den as well as through the downstairs bathroom window, as evidenced by the bloody handprints she left behind as a pitiful reminder of her struggle to survive.

She had been brutalized, savagely beaten, with. her nose, jaw and ribs being broken. Her skull fracture, caused by the lamp base being slammed onto her head, was the fatal blow. She died eight days later.

Detectives working on the case discovered a series of e-mail and instant-messages between the teenagers and used them as evidence in the trial. In the messages, Bell often referred to himself as a potential murderer and said he would do anything for DeMola, including “kill’n for you.”

On July 20, 2005 DeMola and Bell were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

JLWOP Inmate Dayana Cordova

On December 11, 2009 a judge imposed lengthy prison terms today on two teenage girls who killed a young mother because they wanted her car to go to a theme park. Anna Alejandra Salinas, who was 15 when she shot 20-year-old Angelina Arias in the head as the woman gave Salinas and co-defendant Dayana Cordova a ride home, was sentenced to 59 years to life in prison.  Because of her age at the time of the Oct. 18, 2007, murder, Salinas, now 17 could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But Cordova, who was 16 at the time, was sentenced to life without parole.

Cordova, now 18, also received a nine-year sentence for child abuse and kidnapping because she and Salinas drove around with the victim’s 9-month-old daughter for about two hours before leaving her on a door step where she remained until being found hours later.

Riverside Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson excoriated the women for their actions and their subsequent lack of remorse.”Callousness on this scale defies comprehension” he said. A probation report prepared about the women cited a videotape of the defendants in a police interview room, laughing and blaming the victim for her own death.

JLWOP Inmates Michael Mercado and Ryan Thomas Bangs

Aaron Michael Mercado and Ryan Thomas Bangs were both convicted of the murder of their 18-year-old classmate Justin Hopper.  Both Mercado and Bangs were seventeen when they lured Hopper to the isolated location on a pretense to trade their guns for marijuana, and then they shot Justin and robbed him of $560.

The Redlands High School student gossip helped solve the 1992 murder. Hopper’s stepfather, having heard rumors from students, found Justin’s body in a wash across the county line

Both were tried as adults, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Anthony Mercado, son of a prominent dentist and school board member, had a reputation among his peers as being cruel to animals from a very young age.

.JLWOP Inmate Fernando Gil Rivera.

Separate juries convicted two Perris teenagers of murder committed in a 2004 residential robbery that ended with the deaths of 77-year-old Hubert Love, and an eighteen year old accomplice, Juan Pena.

A jury convicted Fernando Gil Rivera, of murder for shooting Juan Pena, 18, five times inside Love’s car after they killed Love. There is disputed information regarding whether or not Shawn Malone Khalifa was inside the car at the time of the shooting and helped Rivera dump Pena’s body into a canal Pena was shot by Rivera after fighting with him about a gun stolen from Love’s home. Khalifa’s attorneys are preparing legal challenges to this conviction.

Testimony at trial stated that Rivera, Khalifa, and Pena were at Khalifa’s home when they conspired to rob Love’s home. But Khalifa’s attorneys dispute this.

Pena and Rivera killed Love by beating the elderly man to death while it was claimed Khalifa went through some drawers looking for loot.

When the trial started Rivera pleaded guilty to Love’s slaying, but went to trial on Pena’s murder. A fourth conspirator Mark Gardner, 20, testified that he saw Khalifa inside Love’s home going through drawers. Gardner pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and first-degree burglary for a 13-year prison term.

Under the felony murder rule, although Khalifa didn’t himself beat Love he was guilty of Love’s murder, because Love was killed during a burglary that the defendant conspired to commit, and was a participant in the burglary.

Khalifa was sentenced to 25 years to life because he was fifteen at the time of the murder. Rivera was sentenced to two terms of life without the possibility of parole plus additional years for enhancements.

JLWOP Inmate Jason Scott Harper

Jason Harper was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole f or his role as lookout in the robbery and murder of Jamaloddin Doroudi, a Rubidoux store owner. Doroudi was stabbed, his throat was slashed and he was shot as he was handcuffed to the toilet at the 99 Cent Store.  Harper was equally liable under felony murder because he provided the handcuffs used to hold the victim and showed his co-defendant Brown where the knife could be found in the store.  Harper also took items from the store.

Riverside Superior Court Judge Gordon Burkhar told Harper during sentencing “We cannot trust you to be back among us. What you did was contrary to humanity.”

JLWOP Inmate Ana Al-Rad Guinn

Ana Al-Rad Levi Guinn and his co-defendant Jamal Hussein Johnson were convicted of murder and robbery.  The jury also found true the special circumstances that the murder was committed during the commission of a robbery as to both. The special circumstance that a deadly weapon (a baseball bat) was used in the robbery was found true as to Guinn but not as to his co-defendant.  Guinn was sentenced to life without possibility of parole plus a one year consecutive term. Johnson was sentenced to 25 y ears to life.

Guinn bludgeoned to death a 20-year-old Mexican man, Carlos Montes Ortega. There were several young people drinking alcohol and hanging around a courtyard of a Riverside apartment complex, including Guinn whose nickname was “Buckshot,” and his co-defendant Johnson. Defendant Guinn was carrying a wooden baseball bat.  While Guinn was playing with the bat, witnesses heard him say he wanted to kill someone.

The victim, 20-year-old Carlos Montes Ortega, who spoke little English, had come home from work to the apartment complex and as he approached the mailboxes was confronted by Guinn and Johnson who had decided to rob him. Guinn struck the victim several times in the head with a baseball bat and then Robinson took Ortega’s wallet that contained $2.00. Ortega’s head wounds were so severe that medical providers at first thought he had been shot in the head or attacked with a machete.

Guinn’s appellate opinion is often cited in court opinions regarding whether juvenile life without possibility is cruel and unusual punishment. “Defendant Guinn argues that imposition of a sentence of LWOP on a 17-year-old is extreme. While we agree that the punishment is very severe, the People of the State of California in enacting the provision have made a legislative choice that some 16 and 17-year-olds, who are tried as adults, and who commit the adult crime of special circumstance murder, are presumptively to be punished with LWOP. We are unwilling to hold that such a legislative choice is necessarily too extreme, given the social reality of the many horrendous crimes, committed by increasingly vicious youthful offenders, which undoubtedly spurred the enactment .” People v. Guinn (1994) 28 Cal. App. 4th 1130

JLWOP Inmate Jason Johnston

Jason Johnston murdered victim Dale Phillips on February 18, 1999 in the commission of a robbery and carjacking. The murder was particularly brutal and gruesome in that he intentionally ran over the victim three times with the victim’s car. He then stole the victim’s cell phone and used it to brag about the murder of the elderly victim, and later brought friends to the crime scene to show them the body like it was a trophy. He danced around the body, singing in glee “You’re a stiff “and as a final indignity, urinated on the corpse. He also burned the body. During trial, Johnston changed his plea of not guilty to guilty with the court advising him that the court had discretion to sentence him to life without possibility of parole or 25 years to life. After considering the sentencing arguments and reports, the court sentenced him to the maximum term of lwop.


JLWOP Inmate Fabian Flores

Flores was convicted of first degree murder of Viola Mildred Knight on December 12, 1992. He was also convicted of 3 felony counts of residential burglaries, 2 of which he committed on December 12th and an earlier burglary on December 6, 1992. He entered the home of this elderly victim who was in her early 80’s and proceeded to stab her more than 100 times,  using a dagger and switchblade he brought with him, and two knives taken from the victim’s  kitchen and other instruments.   The victim had knife wounds in her vagina which were inflicted both before and after death resulting in Flores also being charged with both rape and attempted rape with a foreign object. Ultimately, the jury could not reach a decision as to the rape counts.

Flores admitted to several people, including his mother, that he committed the murder.

JLWOP Inmate Ashley Gallegos

The victim sixteen year old Mark Walker was fatally shot during a robbery, kidnapping and carjacking in which Ashley Gallegos and three other defendants participated. Although Gallegos was not the actual shooter, he was convicted under the felony murder law for his role in the killing. Jose Montes, age 22, was the actual shooter and he received the death penalty.  Evidence at trial established that Ashley was a passenger in the victim’s car being driven by Montes, and that the victim was in the trunk. Gallegos admitted that he knew the victim was in the trunk and had heard Montes yell at him to shut up.  The group of young men drove a long distance to attend a party, leaving the victim in the trunk of the car.  Witnesses at the party indicated that both Montes and Gallegos were showing off guns, Later five of the party goers, including Gallegos,  left the party in two vehicles.  Montes shot the victim several times and left his car and body at scene, and they all fled in the second vehicles. Neighbors who heard shots called the police who responded and found the victims’ car with his body in trunk.  Montes told friends that he had earned his stripes.

JLWOP Inmate Mariano Albert Valdez

Valdez was convicted of the first degree murder of Abyei Roberts with enhancements that he personally used firearm, he was acting for benefit of street gang, and that the murder of his African American victim was a hate crime.

On November 14, 1998 Valdez and Rodrigo Sanguino, who were both gang members of the Eastside Riva gang, drove to the victim’s neighborhood and were parked in the driveway next to the victim’s home. The victim and a friend were outside when they were confronted by Valdez who directed a gang slur at them referring to the 1200 Bloc Crips. Neither the victim nor his friend was affiliated with gangs. Valdez who had concealed a sawed off shotgun approached the victim and inflicted a fatal wound to his stomach.

Although Valdez denied animosity toward African-Americans, graffiti found on his bedroom wall indicated otherwise.

He was sentenced to life without possibility with a consecutive 25 to life term for the enhancements.

JLWOP Inmate Christian Bracamontes

Bracamontes was convicted of the murder of the fifteen year-old victim Thomas Williams during the commission of a robbery with a special circumstance finding that he participated in the robbery knowing that another principal was armed.  He received life without possibility of parole for his role in the felony murder plus a one -year consecutive sentence.

Bracamontes and his co-defendant Jose Morales went to a wash basin to “tag”, along with the co-defendant’s younger brother. Before leaving, Bracamontes asked his co-defendant did he have his handgun with him, and encouraged Morales to bring the gun. Another group of four young males were at the wash basin to smoke marijuana. Bracamontes took the handgun from Morales’ backpack and stuck it in his sweatshirt. Bracamontes asked the victim if he had painted over his tag and the victim replied no. The victim then asked Bracamontes and his friends if they wanted to buy marijuana. They declined as they had no money.

The Bracamontes trio then discussed robbing the victim and his friends. Morales’ younger brother refused to take part in the robbery and left Bracamontes and Morales at the basin. Bracamontes handed the gun to Morales who shot Thomas Williams during the robbery. Although Bracamontes admitted he knew the gun was going to be used in the robbery, he argued he didn’t know it was going to be used to kill the victim

JLWOP inmate Edward Juan Cuellar

Edward Juan Cuellar,  Joey Alfredo Diaz,  and Johnny Ray Aguirre were convicted of murder in the May 11, 2005, in the stabbing death of 15-year-old Dominic Redd.  Two separate juries called the Red jury and the Blue jury were used to try the three defendants with Cuellar having a separate trial. At the time of the murder Diaz was 15 and Aguirre and Cuellar were 16.

Diaz testified about the  racial slurs and curse words they had yelled as they chased the Centennial varsity running back.  According to testimony, Dominic dropped his backpack and ran. He tried desperately to open the door to his home, but the defendants  caught up with him, and he managed to get away. They  eventually surrounded Dominic. Diaz originally told police that he had stabbed Dominic once, but at trial he said Cuellar did it.

Cuellar told police that Diaz did it because the youngest one has to carry the weapon. Co-defendant Aguirre said Diaz couldn’t do it.

The cross finger-pointing led to Diaz and Aguirre having a different jury than Cuellar.  Although the prosecutor argued that all three should be found guilty of first-degree murder no matter who had stabbed Dominic,  jurors  reached different verdicts.  The red jury  convicted Diaz   of second-degree murder as well as the special circumstances of  the gang enhancement, but found that he did  not  use a deadly weapon.  The same jury convicted Aguirre of second-degree murder in furtherance of a gang.

The Blue Jury found Cuellar guilty of first-degree murder in furtherance of a gang.