DOWNEY, Calif. (AP) – A convicted felon was charged Monday with the murders of three people and the attempted murder of two others at a fire extinguisher business and a nearby home in suburban Downey last week.
Jade Douglas Harris, 30, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of murder along with special circumstance allegations that include killing a witness to a crime. Prosecutors will decide whether to pursue such a punishment at a later date.
Prosecutors said Harris went to the family-owned shop Wednesday in response to an Internet ad offering a 2010 black Camaro for sale. Josimar Rojas, 26, and Irene Cardenas, 35, two employees, were killed there, and the mother of the owners was shot in the face but survived.
Harris then kidnapped the owner’s sister-in-law, Susana Perez-Ruelas, 34, to drive him and her son to a nearby home where the car was located, authorities said. Martha Zerehi, a spokeswoman for the business, said Perez-Ruelas was shot and killed when she pushed Harris. The 13-year-old boy also was shot but survived.
Harris wore a blue jail jumpsuit and was shackled in handcuffs as he sat in a courtroom Monday with his head hung. He only looked up when he told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debra Cole-Hall that he understood his rights to delay his arraignment until Nov. 28.
Harris has felony convictions for robbery, attempted robbery and carrying a concealed weapon, according to court records. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Gabriel Martinez, declined to comment after Monday’s short hearing.
Some of the victims’ family members were in court but also declined comment.
Harris was charged with three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of kidnapping for carjacking, three carjacking counts, two kidnapping counts and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
Prosecutors also alleged four so-called special circumstances: Murder while lying in wait, murder in the commission of a kidnapping, murder in the commission of a carjacking and killing a witness to a crime.
Harris was detained and questioned Thursday after the stolen Camaro was found in Los Angeles, about 20 miles north of Downey.
Zerehi said Perez-Ruelas arrived at the business with her son after picking him up at school for a dentist appointment. She may have seen the bodies of Rojas and Cardenas inside because she looked terrified when she walked out, Zerehi said.
Harris grabbed the mother and son and took them to the family home down the street, where the Camaro was. The boy, Antonio Jr., showed the gunman the keys to the Camaro and asked that he and his mom be left alone, Zerehi said.
But the man held a gun at the boy’s head and asked, “Do you know how easy it is to kill you right now?” Zerehi said.
Perez-Ruelas was killed because she witnessed a crime, according to court documents. Zerehi said Perez-Ruelas shoved Harris really hard after her son had been threatened and the gunman killed her and then shot the boy before fleeing in the Camaro.
Records show the business is registered to Robert Salinas and the home where the second shooting took place is owned by his brother, Antonio, who is Perez-Ruelas’ husband.
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