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'49th Street Massacre' killer should die, prosecutor says

Charles Ray Smith, 44, was found guilty of two deadly shootings in South L.A. in 2006. His attorneys say he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and his life should be spared.

June 05, 2013|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
  • Charles Ray Smith was convicted in the deaths of four people, including a 10-year-old boy.
Charles Ray Smith was convicted in the deaths of four people, including… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

A gang member convicted of fatally shooting four people — including a 10-year-old boy riding a bicycle outside his home — deserves to die for his crimes, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Amy Ashvanian said Charles Ray Smith was responsible for two separate deadly shootings in 2006, including one that became known as the "49th Street Massacre" in which two men wielding AK47s opened fire on children and adults enjoying a Friday afternoon in summer on a quiet South Los Angeles street.

Ashvanian described Smith, 44, as a "predator" who showed no remorse. She said he told one associate after the 49th Street shooting: "If they're old enough to shoot, they're old enough to get shot." In an earlier shooting, she said, Smith killed a man returning home with milk for his family.

"Did he show any mercy to any of the victims?" the prosecutor asked during her closing argument. "These are the crimes that deserve the ultimate, the highest punishment … which is death."

But Smith's attorneys urged the jury to spare their client, questioning whether he was involved in the killings.

They said jurors should also consider a variety of disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his upbringing. They said his afflictions warped Smith's view of the world, impaired his logic and made him react impulsively. Smith, they said, was raised by parents who were heavy drinkers when he was a child and who were addicted to crack cocaine when he was a teenager. Attorney James Bisnow told jurors that all four of Smith's brothers ended up in jail or prison.

"No one survived that home," Bisnow said.

The brutality of the 49th Street killings shocked a city long used to gang violence. The shooting was one of several high-profile interracial gang crimes that stoked fears among some minority activists of a possible race war. Witnesses described the gunmen as black; the victims were Latino.

But prosecutors have argued that race had little to do with the killings and that Smith and another man, Ryan T. Moore, mistook the victims for rival gang members in a tit-for-tat feud over turf, drugs and pride. None of the victims had any gang ties.

Moore was convicted and sentenced to death. Jurors deadlocked in Smith's first trial before a second jury found him guilty but could not agree on whether he should be executed. Another jury also deadlocked on what Smith's punishment should be. A new jury is hearing testimony in a third — and, most likely, final — attempt by prosecutors to obtain a death sentence for Smith.

Ashvanian said the first of Smith's killings occurred on March 31, 2006, after a Latino gunman in a green sedan fired shots at a member of Smith's gang, the Rollin' 30s Stone Pirus. Smith, she said, had his then-girlfriend bring him an AK47. Bani Hinojosa, 27, heading home to his wife and daughters, was in his green sedan when Smith shot him in the back, like "a coward," Ashvanian said.

"Whether it was the wrong car or the wrong man … for Mr. Smith, it didn't matter," she said.

Smith's girlfriend, Alicia Merceron, testified that she drove Smith to other shootings, including the June 30, 2006, one on 49th Street, the prosecutor said. Smith was angry that rival gang members had shot a close friend and fellow gang member two weeks earlier. On the same day as his friend's death, Smith's children were chased by a group of Latinos who he believed were members of the same rival gang.

"He's bloodthirsty for killing someone who is an enemy to him," Ashvanian said.

Slain on 49th Street were David Marcial, 10, who loved to make people laugh and often told his parents, "You're the bestest"; his uncle, Larry Marcial, 22, an aspiring singer who had two young children; and Luis Cervantes, a 17-year-old neighbor who hoped to become a police officer. David's 12-year-old brother was seriously wounded in the attack. The boys had been riding their bicycles in front of their house when the gunmen opened fire.

Ashvanian questioned testimony by defense experts that Smith suffered from neurological disorders that influenced his decision-making. She accused Smith of trying to shift the blame for the slayings from himself.

But Smith's attorneys argued that there also was lingering doubt about their client's guilt.

No witnesses were able to identify Smith as the gunman in either shooting, attorneys said, noting that prosecutors relied heavily on testimony by his girlfriend, who was given a 7-year prison sentence for her role in the slayings in exchange for her testimony. The lawyers described Merceron as a liar who implicated her boyfriend to get the best deal possible.

"You really cannot trust anything she says," attorney James P. Cooper III told the jury.

The lawyers noted that many of Smith's relatives, including his children, testified that he was a loving father who encouraged his children to do well in school. One of his daughters recently graduated from USC and hopes to attend law school.

"He was there to nurture his children so that they didn't become like he became," Cooper said.

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