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3 Convicted in Murder of Police Officer


Three men were convicted of first-degree murder Thursday for killing a Maywood police officer, and two of them also were found guilty of murdering a Van Nuys market owner, clearing the way for a jury to decide whether they should be sentenced to death.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Jose Contreras, Benjamin Alberto Navarro and Edgardo Sanchez Fuentes guilty of the May 29, 1992, shooting of Officer John Hoglund, who was gunned down as he responded to a silent burglar alarm at a Maywood market.

Hoglund, 46, was the first officer in the history of the Maywood Police Department to be killed in the line of duty.

Contreras and Fuentes also were convicted of murdering Lee Chul Kim, 49, who was shot May 4, 1992, in the freezer of his grocery store in Van Nuys after he returned from the bank with a large amount of cash.

The verdicts pleased Hoglund's friends who were in court Thursday.

"I'm stunned, I'm amazed and I think it's great," said his fiancee, Terri Smith, who recalled that the night before he was killed, Hoglund had set their wedding date.

Fuentes and Contreras were each convicted on 38 counts--including murder, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon--stemming from a series of seven robberies. Navarro, who was not charged in connection with the Kim slaying, was convicted on 32 counts for his role in five of the robberies.

In addition, the three men were found guilty of special allegations that expose them to the death penalty, including killing a police officer and committing murder during the course of a robbery and to avoid arrest.

Fuentes and Contreras, each acquitted of two counts of robbery, were found guilty of the special allegation of committing multiple murders.

To convict the men, all in their early 20s, prosecutors relied on a security camera videotape that clearly captured the images of the three defendants inside the burglarized Maywood grocery store, minutes before the shooting of Hoglund. At one point in the video, some of them were shown walking around the store after the robbery, drinking Gatorade.

Prosecutors also alleged that during the robberies, which spanned an area from Paramount to Van Nuys, the defendants used electric stun guns on employees to torture them into handing over money, threatened to cut off one woman's fingers and shoved a gun in a man's mouth.

The trial is to continue Monday with the start of the penalty phase, during which jurors must decide whether the three should be sentenced to death.

"We've known from the outset that the fiercest battle is going to be waged at the penalty phase," said James Leonard, an attorney for Contreras. "I'm confident that after a jury hears all the evidence about Mr. Contreras' life, they will reject the death penalty."

Eric K. Davis, an attorney for Navarro, who described the verdicts as "expected," said he will present a psychologist who is an expert on Central American culture to testify on behalf of his client, who is from El Salvador.

"My client has never denied his involvement, but our position has always been that . . .the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment," said Davis.

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