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Man Faces Murder Charge in '93 Shooting Death : Crime: Arrest was largely result of information gathered through reward and efforts of victim's friends.

July 07, 1994|CHIP JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — An Arleta man was charged Wednesday with the April, 1993, shooting death of a Chatsworth man originally believed to have been killed in an attempted carjacking that took place within two miles of a fatal carjacking carried out at about the same time, authorities said.

Edward Frias, 24, who had been sentenced to prison only last month for murder in another case, was booked on suspicion of murder Tuesday at the Van Nuys jail, said Detective Jim Rahm of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The victim, Thomas MacDowell, a 32-year-old aspiring filmmaker and a popular bartender at the L.A. Cabaret Comedy Club in Encino, was shot to death on April 21, 1993, at about 3 a.m. while parking his car at his girlfriend's apartment near the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Hesby Street. After the shooting, MacDowell managed to drive another 100 feet into an alley, where police found his body about 3:30 a.m.

The gunman fired the fatal shots through the driver's side window of MacDowell's 1987 BMW in what was believed to be a carjacking attempt.

Apparently by coincidence, that same morning, William Edward Fliehmann, a road worker, was killed when he was thrown from a construction company truck by his assailants at the Victory Boulevard entrance ramp to the Hollywood Freeway. No arrest has ever been made in that case.

Investigators said Frias was accompanied by an unidentified accomplice during the killing.

"There was a lot of speculation at the time, but we believe it was a robbery," Rahm said, disputing the notion that the incident was a carjacking. "I don't think the police ever said it was a carjacking, and we investigated it as a street robbery."

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office Wednesday filed one count of murder with special circumstances against Frias in the Van Nuys branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, said Shellie Samuels, a deputy district attorney handling the case.

Samuels said the special circumstances--the fact the killing was committed during the commission of another crime, and Frias' previous murder conviction--may cause the district attorney's office to seek the death penalty in the case. On June 27, Frias was sentenced to 18 years to life for a murder committed in June, 1993.

The case against Frias was built primarily with information provided by several people who contacted investigators hoping to collect a $25,000 reward offered by the Los Angeles City Council, Rahm said.

That reward was supplemented by a $5,000 offer made by MacDowell's friends, who held a press conference last April on the first anniversary of his death to renew interest in the case. Media coverage of that conference coupled with the reward money helped investigators solve the case, Rahm said.

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"A newspaper article appeared April 28, 1994, and within about one week we got a phone call and met with the first person," he said. Several calls offering information about the crime were received, said Rahm.

Friends and family members said Frias' arrest is a relief.

"I talked with my mom a little while ago, and she is non-reactive, laid-back person, and I can't tell you what it's like to hear her cry every time I talk with her," said John MacDowell, the dead man's brother.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't see my brother, and I will think about him every day for the rest of my life."

"I feel fantastic about the whole thing," said Gil Sotelo, a friend who helped organize the news conference and the supplementary reward. "When someone who you know is murdered, it's a lot harder when you don't why or what exactly happened."

Authorities said Frias and the accomplice may have followed MacDowell from the night club to his girlfriend's apartment building, where they attempted to rob him.

Investigators will not release details of what happened on the night of the killing, but a gold chain they believe belonged to MacDowell was found near the crime scene, authorities said.

No date has been set for a preliminary hearing for Frias, Samuels said.

Before he was arrested for MacDowell's murder, Frias was convicted of second-degree murder in the June 28, 1993, death of Torrance Stephenson, a 27-year-old Sun Valley man who had challenged Frias and other men who were gathered at Slavin Park in North Hollywood, Samuels said. Frias shot the unarmed man six times and claimed self-defense because he believed that Stephenson, a known gang member, was carrying a gun, Samuels said.

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