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Triple Slaying Confounds Investigators

With few leads, police say the South L.A. shooting victims may have been executed.

July 06, 2006|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

When gunmen killed an adult and two youngsters Friday in front of a South Los Angeles house, Los Angeles Police Department officials mobilized scores of officers and said they hoped to have suspects in custody by the weekend.

But the more detectives delved into the shootings, dubbed the 49th Street Massacre by Chief William J. Bratton, the more of a mystery it has become.

As detectives pieced together what took place on 49th Street, what at first looked like a drive-up shooting now appears to be calculated, execution-style slayings.

Officials have concluded that the gunmen got out of a car and approached each of the victims, firing from point-blank range with assault-style rifles.

The shots killed David Marcial, 10; his uncle, Larry Marcial, 22; and a neighborhood friend, Luis Cervantes, 17. David's brother, Sergio Marcial Jr., 12, was wounded.

The background of the victims, often relevant in a homicide case, has provided few leads so far as to who the assailants may be, said LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascon.

The victims' immediate families appear to have no gang or criminal ties, making the circumstances of their deaths even more puzzling, Gascon said. Larry Marcial was an aspiring singer of corridos, Mexican ballads, and was included on a CD with other singers.

Sources close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said one of the biggest puzzles is that execution-style killings are often used to send a message, but detectives aren't sure what that message is.

Police and city officials have been trying to keep public interest in the case alive with a series of news conferences and by offering a $105,000 reward.

Police acknowledge that clues have been slow in coming, leading them to two main theories: One holds that the gunmen hit the wrong house, either because they had the wrong address or that the actual target once lived there. The other is that a distant relative or acquaintance had a gang-related dispute and that the attack was a form of retaliation.

"It could be a case of mistaken identity, the wrong location or right location and wrong family," Gascon said. "Right now we are exploring every avenue.... I am sure this will be solved soon rather later."

Investigators have gotten one break. Though witnesses have given conflicting statements about the gunmen and their car, detectives are hoping that surveillance video shot from businesses along nearby Central Avenue could yield important information.

Based on the way the shooting occurred, authorities are working on the theory that the assailants are tied to a street gang. But sources say that is based largely on a hunch and that the department's gang intelligence network has not confirmed a solid link.

One motive Bratton has been quick to dismiss is that the attack by apparently black assailants on Latino victims was racially motivated.

Detectives are expanding their interviews of residents around the home, in the 1100 block of 49th Street, to gather more potential eyewitness accounts. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to aid an effort to determine whether the rounds fired in the attack match those fired in other killings.

Witnesses reported seeing a large, dark-colored passenger vehicle traveling on 49th Street stop in front of the home and two gunmen, described as African Americans in their 20s to 30s, getting out and firing with rifles. The gunmen returned to the vehicle where a possible third suspect drove them away from the scene using Central Avenue.

The county coroner's office completed autopsies on the three victims Tuesday, but LAPD detectives have placed a security hold on the findings.

Authorities aren't sure whether neighbors or others have information that for some reason they are withholding. But they hope the reward might entice cooperation.

"I'm convinced, and the authorities are convinced, that if we have a high enough reward, someone will come up," said County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose district includes the neighborhood where the attacks occurred. "This is a situation where there had to be a number of witnesses ... the [assailants] got out of the car, came up with an AK-47 and shot three children. It's something that really has to happen -- we have to find out who did this, and the person has to stand for trial and conviction."

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