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Suspect in Murders Faced Earlier Charges : Crime: The man charged with killing three former co-workers in Tustin had been accused earlier of crimes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

August 29, 1990|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUSTIN — The man accused of murdering three former co-workers in Tustin has been wanted by Southland police for more than a year for allegedly punching a motorist in Riverside County, as well as stealing vehicles and fleeing from authorities in San Bernardino County, officials said Tuesday.

"It seems to me that if we'd put more effort into catching this guy in the first place," said Don Unkenholz of Corona, whose trailer was allegedly stolen by Greg Sturm in late 1989, "then three young men might be alive today."

Sturm, 20, was arrested last week in connection with the Aug. 19 execution-style murders of three workers at a Super Shops automotive parts store in Tustin. Authorities allege Sturm killed the young men while robbing the store to support his drug habit.

"We knew a year ago that this Greg Sturm had problems," Unkenholz asserted. "There were warning signs, but we ignored them."

But Southland authorities countered that the handling of Sturm's case is only a reflection of a judicial system that has been slowed by gridlocked courts and overcrowded jails.

"You can always speculate in hindsight," said Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew Rosenblum, who will prosecute Sturm when he reappears in court Sept. 7 to face charges of murder, robbery and burglary.

"But unfortunately, there are thousands and thousands of arrest warrants out throughout the state, and you have to work the biggest ones. It's a question of priorities," he said.

Added San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Vic Stull, whose office brought misdemeanor theft charges against Sturm in 1989: "We just don't have the resources to track all these people down.

"Generally, misdemeanors are not actively sought. If we get a tip and we know exactly where the person is, we can go get him. But otherwise, we've had warrants go for years, literally. With a guy like this, with what we had before us, he did not appear then to be a homicidal risk, so we couldn't spare the time and people to track him down."

In May, 1989, a warrant was put out for Sturm's arrest in Riverside County after he allegedly fled the scene of a roadside confrontation. He was charged with assault and battery for allegedly punching another motorist in the face during an argument.

A warrant for Sturm's arrest was issued again in October, 1989--this time, in San Bernardino County after he failed to show up in court on charges of receiving stolen property and evading arrest. Arrested with two juveniles, he had allegedly stolen trailers with off-road vehicles on them, then fled when approached by a police officer.

Misdemeanor charges were lodged against him in both incidents.

Now, however, he faces the gas chamber if a jury finds that he bound three former co-workers at the Super Shops store, shot each of them in the head at close range and took $1,100 from the store.

Described by employers and neighbors as hot-headed and combative, Sturm had been fired from the store just a few weeks before the murders and returned to the scene of the crime the day after with a friend.

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