An 18-year-old former Palos Verdes High School student accused of driving the getaway car in a fatal South Los Angeles shooting last year was ordered Tuesday to stand trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar rejected defense attorney Jovan Blacknell’s motion to dismiss the case against Cameron Terrell, who is charged with one count of murder for the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting death of 21-year-old Justin Holmes and two counts of attempted murder, along with gang and gun allegations.
Los Angeles police Officer Mark Rakitis, called by the prosecution as a gang expert as its final witness during the defendant’s preliminary hearing, testified that he believed Terrell — who is white — is a member of a primarily black gang. He testified that a photo found by police on the defendant’s cell phone shows a young man appearing to be Terrell making a hand sign derogatory to a rival gang.
Under cross-examination, Rakitis acknowledged that he could not find a field identification card — often filled out by police officers as they encounter gang members on the streets — involving Terrell.
Police said neither Holmes nor his two friends, who were not wounded, had any gang affiliations.
The three were walking on 78th Street near South Western Avenue when two teens turned out of an alley and one of them asked, “Where are you from?” and pulled a handgun out of his blue hooded sweatshirt, Los Angeles police Detective Stacey Szymkowiak testified Monday.
One of the three friends yelled, “Run!” and they took off as four to five shots were fired, she said.
“Justin was hit (twice) and fell,” Szymkowiak said, testifying that an autopsy showed a bullet fired into his back proved fatal.
Surveillance video captured the 16-year-old alleged shooter and another juvenile jumping into the back seat of a black Mercedes-Benz sedan after the shooting. The car, which was seen in other footage turning into the alley in question, was registered to Terrell’s father and was typically driven by Terrell, the homicide detective said.
Terrell subsequently gave his cell phone to police along with his passcode, and investigators found multiple videos and photos of the defendant flashing gang signs and showing off a curly W tattoo on his chest, according to Szymkowiak.
“He said he got (the tattoo) before he knew anything about (local gangs) … because he saw it on Kevin Durant and he thought it was cool,” Szymkowiak testified.
Terrell insisted to police that he wasn’t a gang member, was “never officially jumped in” and didn’t take orders from “big homies,” though he told the detective that others might consider him a member, according to Szymkowiak’s testimony.
Szymkowiak said she interviewed Terrell 11 days after the shooting and “by the end of the conversation, he admitted that he was driving the car at the time.”
However, he also told the detective that the other two guys had been talking about “tagging” and that he didn’t know they planned to shoot anyone, according to the witness.
“He said he never let people inside his vehicle with firearms,” Szymkowiak testified.
A search of the Mercedes uncovered a light blue jersey with gang insignia, along with a backpack with a spray paint can inside, the detective testified.
Blacknell stressed that his client was sitting in the car in the alley out of sight of the other two teens when he heard gunshots and that he drove away rather than toward the shooting.
Terrell and the two juvenile suspects were arrested Oct. 12. A $5 million bond was subsequently posted on Terrell’s behalf, prompting some parents at Palos Verdes High School to call for his suspension when he returned to classes.
His parents — identified by the Daily Breeze as media consulting firm president Donald Wayne Terrell and interior designer Debra Terrell — agreed to pull him out of classes. His attorney said Terrell is continuing to work toward finishing his high school education, though he did not say whether he is being home-schooled or attending classes elsewhere.
The two juveniles arrested along with him are awaiting transfer to adult court.
Terrell — who remains out of custody — is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse for arraignment April 24.