Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

A state appeals court panel upheld a man’s conviction for his role in the shooting death of a man whose body was found inside a Mercedes-Benz at a strip mall in La Mirada more than a decade ago.

In a ruling Monday, the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in Briaell Michael Lee’s trial.

Lee was convicted in August 2013 of second-degree murder for the Jan. 27, 2004, killing of Mario Larios, but acquitted of the killings of two other men found inside the vehicle. He was sentenced in October 2013 to 40 years to life in state prison.

Cimarron Bernard Bell — who was charged along with Lee but tried separately — was convicted and sentenced to death in 2011 for killing Larios and the other two men: Edgar Valles and Fernando Pina. Bell also was convicted of the Nov. 11, 2003, shooting deaths of one of his girlfriends, Ineka Edmondson.

The justices noted that Lee was interviewed by police on three occasions and acknowledged during the first two interviews that he had been present during the shootings, but denied shooting anyone.

“In the last interview, appellant stated that he was attempting to leave during the shooting when Bell, armed with two guns, stopped him. Bell put a gun in appellant’s hand, and had the other gun pointed at appellant. Appellant stated that he had no personal desire to shoot the victim. However, he felt he would be shot by Bell if he did not shoot the man. Appellant initially missed the man because he was nervous. Later shots hit the victim. Appellant acknowledged that, ‘A murder is a murder. If I shoot this dude, I killed him,”‘ the appellate court panel noted in its seven-page ruling in Lee’s case.

Prosecutors contended that Bell met the three victims at a gas station so Larios could buy a 2001 Chevrolet Monte Carlo from Bell and that Bell instructed them to follow him to his home in South Whittier, where the three were shot.

Their bodies were discovered three days later — with their pockets turned inside out — in the rear passenger area and trunk of Larios’ leased white Mercedes-Benz. Two of the bodies were wrapped in plastic.

The murders went unsolved until one of Bell’s girlfriends was arrested in a credit card fraud case in February 2004 and told authorities that he had given her details about the four killings and taken her to the scene where Edmondson had been shot, Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks told jurors in Bell’s trial.

Bell’s conviction and death sentence have been automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court, which has not yet heard the case.

— City News Service

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