Prosecutors said Thursday that they will seek the death penalty against two half brothers who are being held in the shotgun attack at a South-Central Los Angeles church last week that left two women dead, including a relative of one of the suspects.
The announcement was made by Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner at an afternoon press conference before the scheduled arraignments of Anthony Oliver, 33, and Albert Lewis Jr., 27, in Los Angeles Municipal Court. The arraignments were later postponed a week so that a deputy public defender familiar with death penalty cases can be assigned to represent Lewis.
Oliver's family has indicated that a private attorney will be hired for the defendant.
The two suspects appeared briefly before Municipal Judge Glenette Blackwell, who advised them of the postponement. Both wore dark blue jail uniforms and stood with hands clasped in front of them and their chins pressed toward their chests. At one point, Oliver briefly raised his head to glare at television cameras and reporters.
Reiner said both men will be charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of Patronella (Pat) Luke, 35, and Eddie Mae Lee, 76, and one count each of attempted murder in the wounding of Luke's husband, Peter, 33. Lewis was a cousin by marriage to Pat Luke.
Police believe that the shooting during last Friday evening's service at Mt. Olive Church of God in Christ stemmed from a domestic dispute between Lewis and his estranged wife, Cynthia. As many as 30 children were in the church at the time.
Peter Luke, who underwent a second round of surgery at California Medical Center on Tuesday on a shattered left leg, has lost the knee on the leg, Reiner told reporters. He remains hospitalized.
"There are two people dead and one crippled for life," Reiner said. "We are filing the maximum charges and are going to be seeking the maximum penalty, which is death."
The district attorney gave few details of the police investigation but revealed that at least one of two shotguns allegedly used in the attack was purchased at a Los Angeles gun shop on July 19, one day after Lewis' wife left him and two days before the church shooting.
Shortly after buying the shotgun, Reiner said, Lewis and possibly Oliver set fire to a car belonging to Cynthia Lewis' mother. Later that day, they set fire to Cynthia Lewis' car, Reiner said.
The following day, July 20, he said, a car belonging to an aunt of Cynthia Lewis was fired upon in what Reiner described as a drive-by shooting.
On Monday, Reiner said, Lewis had the barrel of one of the guns "plugged," or welded closed, apparently in the mistaken belief that ballistics tests could not be performed on it in that condition.
After their court appearance Thursday, Oliver and Lewis were remanded to County Jail without bail.