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Second homicide in four days in Santa Monica

March 21, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Santa Monica police Thursday were investigating the fatal shooting of a man whose body was found Wednesday night in his Montana Avenue apartment, the second homicide in four days in the city.

Relatives of Alexander "Sasha" Merman, 35, called police Wednesday night to ask that he be checked on, authorities said. Investigators went to the Montana 520 apartments, a three-story blue-and-white 1960s-style condominium at 520 Montana Ave., shortly after 8 p.m., said Sgt. Mario Toti.

Merman's death was initially considered "suspicious," and Thursday, detectives began treating it as a homicide, Lt. Ray Cooper said.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Alex Padilla said there was no sign of forced entry at Merman's condominium. He said police were investigating how long Merman had been dead and when he was last seen.

"We're hoping a neighbor or somebody can shed some light on what they've heard or seen," Padilla said.

No suspects have been identified, police said.

According to his website, "Sasha's Illusions," Merman was born in Moscow on Oct. 24, 1972, and immigrated with his mother to L.A. in 1985. He attended local schools, joined the U.S. Navy in 1992 and in 1998 graduated from Otis College of Art and Design with a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration, according to the site. Otis College staff confirmed that Merman graduated in 1998.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 25, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Homicide victim: An article in Friday's California section described the cause of death in the Santa Monica homicide of Alexander "Sasha" Merman as a shooting. An autopsy later determined that the cause of death was a multiple stabbing.

The website features galleries of Merman's surreal, multicolored, digitally enhanced drawings.

"Sasha Merman's unorthodox artistic style combines Dali's bizarre surrealism, M.C. Escher's three-dimensional illusions and Giger's eerie erotic imagery with the modern influences of urban Los Angeles culture," the website says. "The divulgement of his artistic ideas is aided by the use of unconventional surfaces to create an inimitable expression of the artist's stream of consciousness."

Property records show Merman owned his condo.

Neighbor Rikki Kapes described Merman as fit and polite and nice to her grandson the few times they passed in the hall.

"It's awful and it's not believable," Kapes said as she stood outside the apartments this morning.

"It happens; it's just that it's so rare around here."

On Sunday, the body of aspiring Santa Monica actress Juliana Maureen Redding, 21, was found in her apartment in the 1500 block of Centinela Avenue.

Redding's death is also being investigated as a homicide, Toti said. No one has been arrested in connection with that case, he said. Although Redding's autopsy has been conducted, the Los Angeles County coroner has not released results because of a security hold on the case.

Police do not believe there is any connection between the two killings. Merman's apartment is about three miles from Redding's residence.

Some of Merman's neighbors fear the recent homicides signal a rise in violent crime linked to the downturn in the national economy.

"When crimes like this happen in Santa Monica, it doesn't bode well for the whole nation," said Jack Rothstein, 57, a fiction writer who was passing by the crime scene this morning.

The homicides this week mark the first and second of the year for the city of about 91,000, which rarely sees high levels of violent crime.

Anyone with information about the Merman or Redding slayings is asked to contact investigators at (310) 458-8451.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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