Two people were charged with capital murder Thursday in connection with the killings of a young woman and a teenage girl in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Montecito Heights — killings that police described as the result of a long-running gang feud.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II ordered Jose Antonio Echeverria, 18, and Dallas Stone Pineda, 17, to be held without bail while awaiting arraignment March 8 in connection with the killings of Gabriela Calzada, 19, and Briana Gallegos, 17, in late October.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while the defendants were active participants in a criminal street gang, and that the murders were carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Echeverria. Pineda cannot be sent to death row due to his age, even though he is being prosecuted as an adult.
The criminal complaint alleges that Echeverria personally discharged a rifle in the commission of the crimes, killing Calzada.
Police had not previously divulged a cause of death of the victims, saying only that their bodies showed signs of blunt-force trauma. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck confirmed Thursday that one of the victims had been shot, and both were beaten.
“These victims were brutally murdered,” Beck said. “They were known to the suspects who committed the murder. They were also specifically targeted by those suspects. One of the victims was shot. Both of the victims were bludgeoned. It was a horrific scene.”
Beck would not provide details of the motive for the crime, nor would he discuss possible gang affiliations of the victims, but he said the killings were the result “of a longstanding feud” between gangs.
“This was motivated by hatred between gangs,” he said.
He called the victims “young vibrant women who certainly did not deserve to die.”
The victims’ bodies were found by a woman walking her dog at 2:20 p.m. Oct. 28, and their deaths were quickly classified as homicides. Briana was reported missing about 9 p.m. Oct. 28, roughly seven hours after the bodies were found near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park.
The criminal complaint alleges that the victims were killed on or about Oct. 27.
Echeverria was also charged with one count each of attempted murder and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, both allegedly committed Jan. 29. Details of that shooting were not immediately available. Echeverria was also charged with one count of allegedly bringing contraband into the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center Jan. 30.
Pineda’s mother told reporters Wednesday that her son was not involved in the killings, insisting he was home the night the victims died.
“He was home,” the woman told NBC4. “My son was home. They asked me time and time again, and I keep telling them, I know where my kids are at all times. My son was here.”
Gallegos was a Pico Rivera resident and student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassell Park. Friends said Calzada dreamed of being a wildland firefighter.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Calzada was a participant in — and later a leader of — the Summer Night Lights anti-crime and anti-gang program in Glassell Park.
“In that work she had committed herself to turning her life around, to making our parks a safe place for people to gather and be a refuge and (for) other young people who might be able to avoid the kind of violence that ended up costing her own life and Briana’s,” Garcetti said.
“… We know these arrests will not bring back these two young women, but we hope that their loved ones will have a measure of some reassurance, and everyone in the city of Los Angeles will know that you can find some comfort in the knowledge that these alleged killers are no longer on our streets.”
City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes a portion of Debs Park, thanked the LAPD for their diligence in arresting the suspects.
“And while much of the day’s focus is about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these two young ladies, our outrage is about the lives they didn’t get to lead because of this brutal and heinous act,” Huizar said.
—City News Service