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Valley News: Gang Leader's Conviction for 8 Murders Upheld; 'Ear Gauge Stalker' Suspect Arrested

Here are some of the top stories in the San Fernando Valley recently.

Here are some of the top police and fire stories recently in the San Fernando Valley from areas not directly covered by Patch. Go to Sherman Oaks Patch, Studio City Patch, North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch, Encino Patch, Calabasas Patch, Northridge-Chatsworth Patch and Woodland Hills Patch for news in those areas.

 

Reseda, Van Nuys, Mission Hills

A state appellate court panel Friday upheld a former gang leader's conviction for murder for his role in eight Los Angeles-area killings, primarily in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The three- justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected Marvin Mercado's contention that there were errors in his Los Angeles Superior Court trial.

"As a whole, the record provides substantial evidence such that the jury could properly find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," the justices found in a 12-page ruling.

Mercado was convicted in February 2011 of first-degree murder in the slayings of:

-- Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon, two rival Latino gang members who were shot numerous times after being ambushed at an apartment complex on Valerio Street in Van Nuys on April 14, 1995;

-- Cheng Peng, Paul Vu and Ben Liao, who were mistaken for members of a Taiwanese-based gang. They were followed by three carloads of Asian Boyz gang members as they left a Peck Road cafe, got on the westbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway and then attacked near the Temple City Boulevard off-ramp in El Monte on Aug. 1, 1995;

-- Oscar Palis, who was killed on Aug. 26, 1995, at Woodman Avenue and Devonshire Street in the Mission Hills area as he and others were heading home from a video arcade;

-- Jon Gregory, who was killed during a Sept. 20, 1995, home invasion robbery in Reseda; and

-- Tony Nguyen, who was killed with a shotgun the prosecutor said was fired by one of Mercado's accomplices.

Mercado also was convicted of 10 counts of attempted murder.

Jurors recommended that Mercado be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than receive the death penalty.

Mercado, described by authorities as a former leader of one of the cliques of the Asian Boyz gang, was formally sentenced in March 2011 to eight consecutive life terms without parole.

Mercado was a fugitive when seven onetime cohorts of the gang's Van Nuys clique -- Buntheon Roeung, Sothi Menh, David Evangelista, Roatha Buth, Son Thanh Bui, Ky Tony Ngo and Kimorn Nuth -- were tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in June 1999.

Deputy District Attorney Hoon Chun told jurors during the trial that Mercado either had a direct role in the killings or aided his colleagues, including being the driver in the car-to-car shooting in El Monte.

Mercado was living in the Philippines under an assumed name after marrying into a socially prominent family when he was arrested in 2007. He was extradited to Los Angeles to stand trial.

Mercado's brother, Pierre, was convicted this year of four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the slayings of Peng, Vu, Liao and Nguyen. He was sentenced in August to 218 years to life.

Sylmar

A 20-year-old man dubbed the "Ear Gauge Stalker" was arrested Friday in connection with assaults on two women at a Sylmar apartment complex.

Kevion Ray Hunt walked into the San Fernando police station lobby with his mother and surrendered around 10 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police said Hunt's mother said they knew police were looking for her son and they intended to speak to investigators.

"Detectives were writing a warrant for his arrest when we got the call this morning," said Detective Mike Brox, head of the Sexual Assault Unit. "We had been snooping around the neighborhood yesterday and showing the sketch."

The so-called Ear Gauge Stalker wore the circular items in both ear lobes during the attacks, which occurred early Sunday in the Mountain View Manor Apartments on Beaver Street, said Los Angeles police Lt. Paul Vernon. The location was not disclosed.

About 2:40 a.m. that same day, the man accosted a woman in her 30s who was pushing a baby in a stroller, Vernon said.

"He started with small talk, then reached under her dress and groped her," Vernon said.

About an hour later, the man assaulted another woman, who was walking to her apartment.

"He grabbed her and dragged her into a secluded area, trying to disrobe her, before two passersby confronted him and scared him off," Vernon said.

Neighbors pointed detectives to an apartment complex across the street from where the Dec. 9 assaults occurred, and several people described a young man with ear gauges who lived in the nearby apartment with his parents, matching the sketch, Vernon said.

"When we compared the DMV photo to the sketch, it was hard to imagine a better match," Brox recalled.

Authorities distributed crime alerts to nearby Sylmar High School and Los Angeles Mission College, and police had been ready to serve the arrest warrant at Hunt's home this morning when he walked into the police station.

"Funny thing was, detectives had not yet approached nor spoken to Hunt about the case," Brox said.

Hunt was booked for attempted rape at the LAPD Valley Regional Jail Section in Van Nuys where he is being held on $100,000 bail.

Anyone knowing more about the case was urged to call (818) 838-9975 or (800) 222-TIPS.

Burbank

The death of an Alaska Airlines pilot whose body was found on a Golden State (5) Freeway offramp in October was due to natural causes, a Los Angeles County Coroner's Office report said this week.

The body of  Lee Clifford Morris, a 55-year-old Alaska airlines pilot, was discovered on the Scott Road exit ramp Oct. 2 near Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

Burbank police officers who responded to the scene initially thought Morris' death may be suspicious, but preliminary medical examinations indicated the death likely was natural.

The body of Morris—a 26-year Alaska Airlines veteran who was engaged to be married—had no obvious signs of trauma and he wearing civilian clothes. His wallet had not been taken from him.

Reseda

A fire burned Friday in a Reseda home, a city fire official said.

The blaze was reported at 2:41 p.m. in the 18000 block of West Wyandotte Street, according to Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Rescuers arriving at the location reported fire showing from the back of the single-story home, Scott said.

With 29 firefighters on the scene, the flames were under control in 19 minutes, Scott said.

A 22-year-old woman was taken to a hospital for minor smoke inhalation and was in fair condition, he said. A four-year-old boy was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

"(The) main house was described as a total loss," Scott said. "(There was) slight damage to a small two-bedroom house in the rear."

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