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Neighbor Charged With Murder in 4 Slayings

Court: The suspect could get death if convicted of killing the South Whittier family.

July 17, 2002|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state filed capital murder charges Tuesday against Alfonso Morales, setting the stage for a possible death penalty against the man accused of murdering four South Whittier neighbors, including a former co-worker and an 8-year-old girl.

Morales, 23, was charged with eight counts of murder, robbery, burglary, and sex offenses against a child.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office won't decide whether to seek execution until later, said Ken E. Lamb, the prosecutor handling the case.

"This is a terrible crime," said Lamb, referring to the crime scene that veteran Sheriff's Department homicide investigators said is among the worst they have seen. Blood stained the walls and ceilings, and the four victims had been dragged from room to room, authorities said.

Morales used a knife to kill four family members, according to the complaint.

He appeared in Whittier Municipal Court before Commissioner Gerald N. Mansfield. Outside after the hearing, a crush of news photographers surrounded three lawyers representing Morales.

Morales "is not guilty of these crimes," said defense attorney Robert Sheahen.

Also appearing for the defense were Alison F. Triessl and Sharon Beth Morris. The three often work together. Morales family members declined to comment, and the defense team offered few details about their strategy.

Sheahen provided a written release stating that "along with the rest of their South Whittier neighbors, the Morales family expresses their deepest sympathy to the Ruiz family for their extraordinary loss."

The family "intends to give their full support to the defense of" Morales, according to the statement.

The husky Morales, wearing a yellow jail uniform, did not look at those in the courtroom.

Attending were his mother and stepfather as well as relatives of the victims: Miguel Ruiz, 38; his wife, Maritza Trejo, 41; their 8-year-old daughter, Jasmin; and Ruiz's grandmother, Ana Luisa Martinez, 79.

Looking down, Morales answered softly, "Yes," when Mansfield asked whether he understood that he had a right to be arraigned that day and whether he wished to waive that right.

As the commissioner postponed the arraignment, someone in the audience yelled at Morales that he was a murderer. "It's understandable," said Lamb, the prosecutor, about the outburst. "These people are still grieving.... It has to be one of the most difficult things to happen to anybody."

Investigators and neighbors who know Morales described him as a polite young man, a part-time security guard who also worked with Ruiz, one of the victims, fixing computers.

Investigators said Morales had been a good friend of the victims for years. Ruiz had taken Morales under his wing, teaching him how to repair computers. Jasmin often played with Morales' niece, neighbors said.

But within the last month, homicide investigators contend, Morales had had a falling out with Ruiz.

The bodies were discovered Saturday by an older daughter who went to the Ruizes' house on Gunn Avenue in South Whittier to check up on the family.

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