FULLERTON — Three people accused of beating a woman to death in a La Habra shopping center parking lot were charged Tuesday with racially motivated, involuntary manslaughter.
John Richard Collins, 25, of El Monte, Rebecca Luker, 22, of Whittier and a 17-year-old La Habra girl, who told police she is a skinhead, were charged with the fatal attack on Tina Roxanne Rodriguez, 26.
The beating occurred Thursday afternoon as 10 to 20 people in the parking lot watched. Police expressed surprise that no one stepped forward to help.
Authorities are still awaiting the autopsy report, but early indications are that Rodriguez's head was pounded into the pavement as one of her four children watched from Rodriguez's car.
It happened after a traffic dispute in the parking lot at La Habra and Beach boulevards, police said. Rodriguez reportedly confronted the three after they cut off the car in which she was a passenger.
A shouting match began, and Luker and the teen-ager then began beating Rodriguez, police said. Two of the defendants yelled racial slurs during the attack, police said, although they have not specified who. Rodriguez was black, and the defendants are white.
Afterward, Collins drove his two passengers from the scene, police said.
In Fullerton Municipal Court on Tuesday, Collins and Luker kissed and embraced as they were brought to their arraignment. Relatives say the two had been living together for several weeks before their arrests. The hearing was postponed Tuesday, and a hearing for the juvenile has not yet been held. Prosecutors plan to ask that the teen-ager be tried as an adult, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lewis R. Rosenblum said.
The adults face a maximum penalty of four years in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charge. This additional allegation that the attack was racially motivated could add up to four years to their sentences if they are convicted, Rosenblum said.
Luker's uncle and a friend said Tuesday that Luker is not prejudiced and does not have a violent history. They said Luker has called from jail to say that the victim began the fight and then fell and hit her head.
"She said it was all an accident, that no one smashed that woman's head," said Larry Luker of Whittier, Rebecca Luker's uncle. "From what we understand, this woman (Rodriguez) was mouthing off really bad. Becky told us that she (Rodriguez) started the whole thing."
"I have known her since Day One and I've never heard her make a racist remark," Larry Luker said.
Lonnie Haney, whose grandson previously lived with Rebecca Luker, also appeared at the arraignment to offer his support. Haney said that Rebecca Luker would in fact criticize people when she heard them make racist remarks.
Police said Tuesday that the juvenile charged in the case admitted to police investigators during interviews that she is affiliated with a skinhead group and its white supremacist philosophies.