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Judge Orders Trial for 19-Year-Old in Beating Death of Purse Thief

October 21, 1987|TERRY PRISTIN | Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old South-Central Los Angeles man was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for the murder in April of a purse snatcher who was pursued by a group of teen-agers and beaten to death.

Gregory George Sanders and a 17-year-old youth are accused of fatally beating, stomping and kicking Derek Pillares, 28, after chasing him into an elementary school parking lot, where he was trying to steal a woman's car.

Los Angeles Municipal Judge Candace D. Cooper said evidence was sufficient for a trial, despite "quite a few inconsistencies in the versions told by the different observers" of the events leading up to Pillares' death.

'Limits to . . . Force'

"Defense of another is an admirable thing to do, but there are limits to the amount of force that can be used," Cooper told Sanders at the conclusion of a four-day preliminary hearing.

Rejecting Deputy Public Defender Freda Perel's argument that Sanders had merely come to the aid of a "woman in distress," Cooper cited "the prolonged nature of the beating" as well as testimony from one witness that a man resembling Sanders returned to the scene after the others left and jumped on the purse snatcher's head.

She added: "It appears to me that the attack on the victim, even if it had started out of a sense of good Samaritan, good neighborliness and so forth, got out of control and went well beyond what was legally allowed. . . ."

Although medical testimony showed that Pillares might have died anyway from "acute" alcohol and cocaine intoxication, the judge said the beating "hastened" his death.

In her argument, Deputy Dist. Atty. Julie Sulman characterized the attack on Pillares as "vicious, it's malicious, it's intentional, it's premeditated, it's deliberated, it's base, it's antisocial and it's a cold, calculated killing."

But Cooper said there were "questions in my mind" about whether Sanders intended to kill Pillares--a necessary component of a murder conviction. She pointed out that "the standard of proof . . . at this point is a lot different than the standard of proof at a trial."

She also lowered bail from $50,000 to $5,000, saying Sanders, a former security guard, did not constitute "a threat to the community."

Sanders' 17-year-old co-defendant is facing charges in Compton Juvenile Court of murder and trying to intimidate a witness, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Coffey said.

Grabbed Woman's Purse

According to testimony at Sanders' hearing, three teen-agers began chasing Pillares April 29 after he grabbed a 67-year-old woman's purse outside a store at 89th Street and Western Avenue. They pursued him to the parking lot of LaSalle Avenue Elementary School, where he wrested teacher Marilyn Lockhart's keys and attempted to steal her car.

Lockhart testified that a man who bore "similarities" to Sanders was among a separate group of three or four youths who came to her aid and was the one who threw the first punch. She said that as the fighting continued, she urged the youths to stop assaulting Pillares and then left to summon police.

The only positive identification of the defendant came from one of the teen-agers who ran after Pillares--a 15-year-old who testified that Sanders and another youth were riding in Sanders' car when they observed the chase and joined in. This witness said that when he arrived at the parking lot, Sanders was hitting Pillares and kicking him in the head.

Under cross-examination, Perel tried to impeach the 15-year-old by showing that he initially lied to police by denying that one of his friends fired a gun during the incident. The youth with the gun invoked his right to remain silent rather than incriminate himself.

Elandra King-Degeddingseze, who lives across the street from the school, testified that after the youths left the parking lot another man emerged from a car resembling Sanders and jumped on Pillares' head "several times."

She never got a look at the man's face, she testified, and she was not wearing the eyeglasses she needs to see details at a distance.

But Sanders, she said, "is not as big" and "not as muscular" as the man she saw.

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