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Men charged in Craigslist phone ad killing to be arraigned

November 12, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz and Nicole Santa Cruz

Two reputed gang members are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on charges that they ambushed a man who was responding to a Craigslist ad for a cellphone, killing him in front of his teenage son.

Markell Thomas, 18, and Ryan Roth, 17, were charged with murder in late October. They were also charged with attempted murder and two counts each of second-degree robbery with gang enhancements, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Roth, a minor, was charged as an adult.

Authorities allege that Roth and Thomas killed 41-year-old Rene Balbuena on Oct. 19 after he drove to the 9700 block of South Gramercy Place in South L.A. to buy the phone for his 15-year-old son.

HOMICIDE REPORT: Tracking killings in L.A. County

Police said Thomas jumped into the back seat of the car and pointed a gun at the teenager. Balbuena got out of the car and was shot by Roth, police said, and Thomas and Roth then fled.

Initially, detectives said they didn't have much to go on.

"In a case like this, it's stranger on stranger, so it makes it more difficult, as opposed to cases where the victim knows the suspect," Los Angeles Police Det. Chris Barling said.

But investigators discovered similarities to other robberies in the area. Those robberies -- in which no one was shot -- involved Craigslist ads and the same type of cellphone.

"The basic descriptions of the suspects were all the same," Barling said.

Now investigators believe that Thomas could be involved in as many as seven robberies in the Baldwin Hills area from Aug. 2 to Oct. 7.

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nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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