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Man Is Charged in Slayings of Corona Boy, Grandmother

An ex-boyfriend of the teen's sister is accused in the stabbing deaths. He also is charged in an attack on the children's 73-year-old grandfather.

May 03, 2003|Lance Pugmire and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

A teenager and his grandmother were found stabbed to death inside their Corona apartment Thursday night, prompting an eight-hour police manhunt that ended with the arrest of the former boyfriend of the boy's 21-year-old sister, authorities said Friday.

Jose Luis Elias, 24, was charged Friday with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the attack on the woman's 73-year-old husband when he returned home after walking the family dog.

The man was able to stagger down the street to a video store and asked a clerk to call the police.

The suspect's former girlfriend, Veronica Haft, 21, is a UC Riverside student who has been studying in London since late March. On Friday afternoon, Corona police informed her of the deaths of her 13-year-old brother, Austin Perez, and 66-year-old grandmother, Hope Ragland.

Police said witnesses saw a man fitting Elias' description leaving the apartment complex just after 8 p.m., about the time of the slayings.

Elias also had been involved in several domestic disturbances at the apartment that led to police intervention but no arrests, police Sgt. Jerry Rodriguez said. The most recent police call at the apartment came Jan. 31, Rodriguez said, with officers noting an argument between Elias and Haft.

Investigators arrested Elias at 3:45 a.m. Friday after he pulled his car into the parking lot of his Corona apartment complex.

Elias remained in police custody Friday night and was being questioned by detectives. A law enforcement source said Elias had admitted to being in the apartment Thursday. The murder weapon has not been found, police said.

Marian Ragland told police that he was walking the family dog Thursday night and returned home to find the front door locked, which was unusual. After he opened the door and started to step inside, he was hit in the head with a blunt object and fell, he told officers.

Osvaldo Magdaleno, 14, a friend of the young victim, saw the aftermath: "I saw Austin's grandfather laying on the ground outside his apartment. Then he got up and ran to the video store down the block to ask for help."

Clerk Yvette Alvarez said Ragland stumbled in with "a big gash on his head and blood running down his face and shirt.

"He said, 'Please call 911; and please call my home. My wife and grandson are there,' " Alvarez said. "I called 911 and another employee called his apartment. No one answered."

Officers arrived at the Raglands' apartment on Breezewood Court to find the teenager downstairs with multiple stab wounds to his chest and neck; he died at the scene. His grandmother was found dead in a closet with similar stab wounds, Rodriguez said.

The apartment had been ransacked, but investigators were uncertain if anything was stolen or if the intruder was searching for something, police spokesman John Samano said.

Rodriguez said Haft was "in the process of terminating the relationship" with Elias. Her grandmother did not approve of the relationship, prompting "past disagreements, arguments" between her and Elias, Rodriguez said.

Neighbors said Elias and Haft had violent arguments outside the apartment she and her brother shared with their grandparents. The arguments worsened when Haft decided to sever the relationship, neighbors said.

Rodriguez said that police had not located the children's parents and haven't determined why, or for how long they have lived with their grandparents.

On Friday morning, neighbors watched Riverside County coroner's investigators remove the bodies from the apartment.

"This is very sad," said Magdaleno, the young victim's friend. "I saw Austin Thursday afternoon on his skateboard. We used to play football and ride bikes together."

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