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Arrest in Slaying of Tennis Stars' Sister

Alleged gang member is held on suspicion of murder. The victim's companion on the night she was killed is also being detained.

September 16, 2003|David Pierson, Richard Winton and Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writers

A 24-year-old alleged gang member from Compton has been arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the fatal weekend shooting of the eldest sister of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, authorities said Monday.

Aaron Michael Hammer, an alleged member of the Southside Crips, was being held without bail in the fatal shooting of 31-year-old Yetunde Price. Hammer is a suspected shooter but there may be additional suspects in the homicide, said a Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman.

Authorities also were detaining a second man, Rolland Wormley, who had accompanied Price the night she was killed. A sheriff's official described Wormley as "an acquaintance" of Price; her aunt said Wormley was a boyfriend.

Wormley was driving Price's white SUV when the pair became involved in an argument with Hammer and several other men outside a suspected drug house in the 1100 block of East Greenleaf Boulevard. Wormley, a convicted felon and reputed gang member, is being held on a parole violation unrelated to the slaying.

Sheriff's homicide investigators would not say what Price -- known to her friends as "Tunde" -- and Wormley were doing at the house when Price was shot just after midnight Sunday. Earlier in the evening, Price had been watching a televised boxing match at her neighbor's home in Corona.

Sheriff's Capt. Frank Merriman said investigators do not know what sparked the argument that apparently prompted the shooting. "This is a gang-related shooting because gang members are involved," he said. "But the motive may not be gang rivalry."

After the shots were fired, and Price was struck in the head, Wormley sped away to a relative's home, where he called 911 at about 12:15 a.m., Merriman said. Price was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Hammer, who according to court records has a string of burglary convictions, was one of six people detained at the homicide scene. He is one of only a few white members of the predominantly black Southside Crips, one of Compton's most notorious gangs, law enforcement sources said.

Wormley, 28, was initially taken into custody Sunday on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, records show. But he is now being held for violating the terms of his parole from a state prison sentence, said sheriff's homicide Lt. Dan Rosenberg.

Wormley was sentenced to state prison for 16 months for receiving stolen goods and transporting and selling marijuana, state prison records show. Detectives have requested that state parole officials revoke Wormley's parole based on his actions on the night Price was killed, Rosenberg said, but he declined to explain. Parole can be revoked, for example, for associating with known felons or gang members.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Wormley was armed that night, and whether he fired a weapon, law enforcement sources said. Forensic experts are examining several shell casings found at the scene, the sources said.

Sheriff's deputies raided the suspected drug house in the hours after Price's shooting and recovered an assault weapon in the backyard, Merriman said. He would not say whether the weapon has been linked to the crime. Rosenberg said investigators have not uncovered any evidence that the shooting was drug-related.

Hammer's uncle, Dale Nelson, said Monday that he did not believe his nephew killed anyone. Nelson said Hammer grew up in Compton, a mixed African American and Latino city, and had always struggled for acceptance.

"He's a follower," Nelson said. "Aaron isn't rough. He's a person who just wants to be friends with everybody and anybody. He's easily influenced. Maybe Aaron was there, but I'm telling you, he isn't a killer."

Price's friends and relatives on Monday continued to express shock and sadness over her slaying, even as they shared their memories of her.

Mitzi Williams, who is no relation to Venus or Serena Williams, said she met Price in the 10th grade at Lynwood High School. They landed their first jobs together at a Mervyn's store in Lakewood, she said, and got their first credit cards together. They moved into their first apartments together in Bellflower.

"We could talk on the phone for eight hours," said Williams, 31, who also learned to style hair using Price as a model. They would later open a hair salon -- Headed Your Way -- in Lakewood.

She said Price did not change after her two younger sisters reached stardom. She remained the big sister who "made sure the younger ones were OK," Williams said. "If they were down, she knew how to uplift them. She was never judgmental."

Williams said Price may be best known for being the half sister of Venus and Serena Williams, but it was Price's three children who were central to her life.

"She always made sure they were having fun," Williams said. "She made sure they were going somewhere, whether it's taking them out of the country for matches, to Magic Mountain, the movies or getting them something to eat.

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