Monthly Archives: January 2013

Child annoyance to return sex offender to prison

Article Tab: image1-Child annoyance to return sex offender to prisonSANTA ANA – A registered sex offender who wore a GPS ankle bracelet as a condition of parole is headed back to prison after he was convicted Monday of felony child annoyance for trying to lure a 14-year-old girl into his car.

Michael Wentworth faces a potential 25-years-to-life term in prison when sentenced by Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue because he has prior convictions for child molestation and an attempted armed robbery in Florida.

Deputy District Attorney Brad Schoenleben argued to the jury that Wentworth, 52, had “an abnormal sexual interest” in the 14-year-old girl when he approached her three times as she was walking alone on First Street in Santa Ana at about 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 27, 2011.

The girl resisted Wentworth’s advances and refused to get into his car, Schoenleben said. Wentworth sped away when a passer-by interceded, Schoenleben said.

When Santa Ana police investigated after the good Samaritan called 911 on his cellphone and provided a license-plate number, they learned that the man who approached the girl was Wentworth.

Wentworth has a 1997 sexual-assault conviction in Los Angeles for an incident involving a 17-year-old girl he lured into his car and a 2002 conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor conviction in Orange County involving a girl between 10 and 12.



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Old fire arsonist sentenced to death for 5 murders

SAN BERNARDINO – An arsonist was sentenced to death Monday for murdering five men who died of heart attacks during a wildfire that ripped through the hills east of Los Angeles a decade ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Smith had the option of sentencing Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, to the harshest penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Today, after nearly ten years, justice has now been secured for the victims and their families, and those whose lives were affected by the actions of Rickie Lee Fowler,” said District Attorney Michael Ramos.

Fowler was convicted in August of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson. A jury later recommended a death sentence for Fowler.

Prosecutors said Fowler lighted the fire in 2003 out of rage after he was thrown out of a house where his family was staying.

The Old fire scorched 91,000 acres in October 2003 and destroyed 1,000 buildings while burning for nine days in the foothills above San Bernardino. The men died after their homes burned or as they tried to evacuate.

Fowler became a suspect after witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a white van tossing burning objects into dry brush. Investigators interviewed Fowler several months after the fire but didn’t have enough evidence to file charges until six years later.

Fowler was serving time for burglary when he was charged with starting the blaze – one of many fires that raged simultaneously throughout Southern California. He was convicted of sodomizing an inmate and sentenced to three terms of 25 years to life while in prison awaiting trial.

Prosecutors at the arson trial portrayed Fowler as a sadistic felon who raped, robbed and tortured people throughout his life.

Defense attorneys said Fowler never acknowledged starting the fire and suffered a horrific childhood with methamphetamine-addicted parents and a neighbor who molested him.

Prosecutors said Fowler gave authorities a note in 2008 acknowledging he was there when the fire began. The following year, he told reporters he had been badgered into making a confession.


By  LAFONZO CARTER/Associated Press

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Seal Beach shootings: Suspect pepper-sprayed in jail, official says

orange county bail bondsSANTA ANA – The Huntington Beach man accused of killing eight people at a Seal Beach beauty salon had to be pepper-sprayed and restrained when he became disruptive in the Theo Lacy Facility jail, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.

Scott Evans Dekraai became angry Saturday and threw things at protective windows inside the jail, Jim Amormino of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said when asked about the incident.

A team of deputies armed with shields fired pepper balls and forcibly took Dekraai from his one-man cell, Amormino said. Dekraai charged at the deputies, who wrestled him to the ground, Amormino added.

Dekraai was transferred to the medical ward of the Intake and Release Center in the main jail in Santa Ana for a mental evaluation, Amormino said.

Neither Dekraai nor the deputies were injured in the midafternoon scuffle, Amormino added.

“It appears he was unhappy about being segregated from the other inmates,” Amormino said. “He wanted to be in the general population.”

But Dekraai is kept isolated from other inmates for his own protection, Amormino said.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, Dekraai’s defense attorney, said he learned of the confrontation Saturday but was not allowed by the Sheriff’s Department to talk with his client over the weekend because of issues surrounding Dekraai’s mental health.

Sanders also said he was concerned whether law enforcement leaked news of the incident to the Orange County Register, and he was concerned that the Sheriff’s Department discussed the situation with a reporter, particularly in light of Dekraai’s mental-health status.

Dekraai, 44, is charged with gunning down eight people Oct. 12, 2011, at Salon Meritage, including his ex-wife, hairdresser Michelle Fournier, in Orange County’s deadliest mass shooting. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of multiple murders at his trial, set for later this year.

He was indicted on eight counts of murder in January 2012. He has pleaded not guilty.



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Little is known about bones found in yard

orange county bail bondsSANTA ANA – Coroner’s officials said the human remains found in the back yard of a Santa Ana home Sunday are under investigation Tuesday after a 65-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the bones.

Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said Larry T. Dominguez, who used to live in a home on the property, was booked on suspicion of murder “based on the fact we have human remains here at the house and statements he made in the interview.”

Detectives questioned Dominguez late Sunday night after a couple dug into a 2-foot-tall berm while landscaping their yard in the 2500 block of North Hesperian Street and unearthed the bones.

After police received the report at about 2 p.m. Sunday, they designated the yard a crime scene.

It has not been determined whether the remains are of a male or a female and the cause of death remains unknown, Bertagna added.

Bertagna said the bones were sent to the coroner’s office for analysis and a cadaver dog was also brought in to check the rest of the yard.

The lot was the site of a 2006 fire that injured a man identified in a previous Register report as Larry T. Dominguez. He was described as a “pack rat,” and witnesses reported huge stacks of burned newspapers in the back yard.

After the fire, the family next door purchased the property and rebuilt, Bertagna said. The man and woman who discovered the remains are members of the family and live at the new house, he added.

Bertagna said Monday that detectives are investigating whether the 2006 fire was arson or accidental.

According to the Register’s December 2006 report, Dominguez had dozed off in his den when the heat of flames awakened him. A neighbor, identified as Renan Disner, wrestled with Dominguez, who was naked, before persuading him to get out the house.

Disner’s wife, Evy, recalled Dominguez on Monday as a nice man who was not very social.

“He was sort of a night person (who) would go out at night and work night jobs,” Disner said. “He would have people living there for a while, but they usually did not live there very long.”

Disner recalled that Dominguez’s father also lived at the home, but was not there when the fire occurred.

Online records show that Dominguez had lived at the home since 1968; a new Santa Ana mobile home address was listed under his name in 2009.



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Shooting suspect had health problems

orange county bail bondsNEWPORT BEACH – A 75-year-old man who has been battling health issues for years is suspected of shooting and killing a doctor at his office Monday night, authorities said.

A neighbor of Stanwood Fred Elkus said he was often negative about his persistent health problems, and after helping him work on a motor home Sunday night, Elkus insisted he take $10 for the work and a pair of wire cutters.

“I might not be alive much longer,” James Lord, 54, said Elkus told him.

Lord said he didn’t think much of the statement, knowing Elkus was often pessimistic about his health.

“I wish I could have seen the signs of it,” he said.

Elkus was taken into custody in the second-floor offices of 520 Superior Ave., at the offices of Ronald Franklin Gilbert. Gilbert was identified by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities said about a half-dozen shots were fired at about 2:45 p.m. inside the Newport Beach medical offices. When officers arrived, Elkus was taken into custody without incident, said Kathy Lowe, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department.

Gilbert was the former chief of Hoag Hospital’s Department of Urology, and had worked in the hospital for almost 20 years, according to a statement released Tuesday by Richard Afable, President and CEO of the hospital.

“Dr. Gilbert dedicated his career to serving others,” the statement read.

His 53rd birthday would have been Wednesday.

Lord – the neighbor – said he’d known Elkus for about five years, and would be often asked to watch over his Lake Elsinore home while Elkus attended doctor appointments.

For years, Elkus had been battling prostate health problems, he said.

“I’d always tell him thinks would look better,” Lord said.

On Monday night, police searched Elkus’ Lake Elsinore home and took several items as evidence, Lowe said.

Authorities would not say whether Elkus was or had been a patient of Gilbert. Newport Beach Police officials also declined to comment on a possible motive, citing an ongoing investigation.

Although the building was filled with patients and employees, no other injuries were reported.

On Tuesday morning, several additional guards were patrolling the area.

Gilbert, a 1987 graduate of UCI College of Medicine, had been a practicing physician and surgeon since 1989, according to the California Medical Board.

The website for Orange Coast Urology stated he was married and had two children.

On Tuesday, Elkus was being held in the Men’s Jail in lieu of $1 million. Arrest records listed his profession as a barber.



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Arrest made in 2011 shooting death of Anaheim man

orange county bail bondsFurrukh Shan Alam, 37, left his Anaheim home for a business trip to Florida one afternoon in August 2011.

He never returned.

Instead, he was shot in the chest with a semiautomatic handgun, taking his last breath in the spare bedroom of a house on a quiet residential street in Maitland, an affluent suburb north of Orlando.

The owner of the house, Bruce Fuller, dialed 911 around 8:36 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2011, and told a dispatcher he had shot Alam, who had been staying at his house. Fuller told responding officers there had been a physical altercation and he had acted in self-defense.

“There were no other witnesses,” said Maitland Deputy Police Chief Bill McEachnie.

But Alam’s friends and family, believing Fuller had murdered Alam in cold blood rather than self-defense, pressed authorities to make an arrest.

“We tried to apply some pressure,” said Imran Alam, Furrukh’s brother, who flew to Florida after the shooting to meet with detectives. “Not knowing the circumstances of what happened made it more frustrating.”

Although police frequently briefed family members on the status of the investigation, they disclosed few details.

“We keep an open line of communication,” McEachnie said. “But it was frustrating for them, because I couldn’t tell them a whole lot.”

Then, in December, a warrant was issued for Fuller’s arrest. On Jan. 13, another call to Alam’s family members came from Maitland police: Fuller had been taken into custody after running a stop sign near his home. He was charged by prosecutors with second-degree murder in Alam’s death. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

“I had practically given up,” said Mahfooz Alam, the dead man’s father.

“We were very happy. The whole community is happy.”

Fuller, 63, has not entered a plea, officials with the Florida State Attorney’s Office said. He was released on house arrest late Friday after posting $50,000 bail, according to online court records.

Attempts to reach Fuller and his attorney were unsuccessful.

McEachnie said the case is based heavily on forensic evidence, and he added that detectives worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida State Attorney’s Office and a joint homicide task force led by the Orlando Police Department to investigate Alam’s death.

“There was significant forensic evidence that had to be examined and re-examined,” McEachnie said.

“I suppose we could have charged (Fuller) the night of the case, but it would have been dismissed, and that would have been the end of it. That’s why it took quite awhile.”

The deputy chief declined to say what evidence police have.

Alam’s father said the two men knew each other. Fuller sold Alam a cruise vacation a few years ago. They stayed in touch.

“He trusted his friends,” Mahfooz Alam said of his son.

“He trusted everyone he met.”

Alam, known by his friends as “Shan” and “Shawn,” was born in Inglewood and grew up in Anaheim. Alam married his wife, Farzana, in 2005. Their son, Rayhan, was born two years later.

Alam was active in the Orange County Islamic and Pakistani communities and with various charitable organizations, friends and family members said. He was kind and generous, often financially helping family, friends and even neighbors, they said.

More than 2,000 people attended his funeral in Westminster.

Disputing Fuller’s self-defense claim, family members said Alam did not have violent tendencies.

“He was always the person to calm a situation down,” Imran Alam said.

Alam’s wife and son have since moved to Houston to be closer to her family. They are still searching for answers.

“His son is waiting for his father,” Mahfooz Alam said. “He says, ‘My daddy got lost, but when he finds our house, he will come back.'”




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Authorities ID man found stabbed to death in Santa Ana parking lot

orange county bail bondsSANTA ANA – Authorities on Tuesday identified a 38-year-old man found stabbed to death in a Santa Ana parking lot.

Officers responding to reports of a man covered in blood shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday in the 700 block of East First Street found Jaime Mejia Zaragoza unconscious and not breathing.

Zaragoza, who police say had been stabbed multiple times in the upper body, was pronounced dead at the scene. No weapon was found.

The stabbing is believed to have occurred in the Hickory Plaza, near Taqueria El Perico.

Other people were believed to have been hanging out with Zaragoza in the area before the stabbing, but no one was around when the officers arrived, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

Zaragoza was “on and off homeless” and was known to frequent the area, Bertagna added.

Investigators have not identified any suspects in the stabbing. They are asking anyone with information about the case to call the Santa Ana homicide detail at 714-245-8390.

The stabbing was Santa Ana’s second homicide of the year, as well as its second in as many days.

Police are investigating the shooting death Saturday night of 20-year-old Ruben Gonzalez Jr.

Officers responding to multiple reports of a shooting in the 800 block of North Figueroa Street about 11:40 p.m. found Gonzalez suffering from a gunshot wound to his chest. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators believe Gonzalez was at a nearby house party attended by 100 to 200 people when a fight broke out, Bertagna said. Investigators are working on interviewing people who attended the party but have not identified a shooter or shooters.

Police described Gonzalez as a documented gang member and say his death is believed to have been gang-related. They are asking anyone with information about his death to call gang investigators at 714-245-8648.



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