A 28-year-old man was charged Tuesday with capital murder for allegedly setting fire to a music studio last Saturday in Studio City, killing two men and leaving a 15-year-old girl and a man in his 20s critically injured.
Efrem Zimbalist Demery Jr. of Los Angeles was ordered to be held without bail while awaiting arraignment May 17 at the Van Nuys courthouse on two counts each of murder and attempted murder and one count of arson of a structure. A special circumstance allegation of multiple murders could result in the death penalty if he’s convicted, but prosecutors have yet to decide whether to pursue capital punishment.
The criminal complaint includes allegations that Demery used an accelerant and committed great bodily injury during the commission of the crime.
Investigators believe that Demery knew and had been together with the deceased victims — DeVaughn Cemar Carter, 28, and Michael Pollard Jr., 30, both of Los Angeles — and that a dispute erupted with one or both of them, according to Los Angeles Police Department Chief of Detectives Justin Eisenberg.
Demery then went across the street from Top Notch Recordings at 3779 N. Cahuenga Blvd., bought gas at a Chevron station and returned to torch the interior of the building before fleeing out a rear door, Eisenberg alleged.
Firefighters were dispatched at 6:54 a.m. Saturday to the building and had the greater-alarm fire out within 28 minutes of their arrival, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
A K-9 on loan to the LAFD’s Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detected an accelerant, and forensic evidence, surveillance video and witness statements caused investigators to zero in on Demery, according to Capt. William Hayes of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
Demery, who is believed to have been friends with at least one of the dead men, allegedly poured fuel in a hallway and set it ablaze, Hayes said, adding that Carter and Pollard were in one room and the two injured victims were in separate areas of the studio at the time.
Responding firefighters found all four victims down inside the building.
The injured girl and man appear to have no connection to Demery or the dead victims, police said.
Carter and Pollard were pronounced dead at the scene and the two injured victims remain hospitalized in critical condition with “significant burns,” Eisenberg said Monday.
The nature of the possible dispute between Demery and the other two men remains under investigation, Hayes said.
Demery — whose prior criminal history includes burglary and selling counterfeit goods — was arrested on suspicion of murder about 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the area of 135th Street and Avalon Boulevard in the Willowbrook area when a California Highway Patrol officer stopped him for a traffic violation, according to Eisenberg.
By the time he was stopped, Demery had already been identified as a suspect in the Saturday morning fire, which Eisenberg called a “senseless and horrific crime.”
Demery has been held without bail since his arrest.
The building houses independent producers and studios, Shad Rabbani, the leasing agent for the building, told the Los Angeles Times. The facility has 13 studios, he said.
“They have a lot of clients and it’s 24/7, so I have no idea who is coming and who is going out,” Rabbani said.
Songwriter and artist L.A. Pryce said he had worked all night in one of the studios, fallen asleep and was awakened by a friend.
“My boy was like, `Yo wake up. Smell That?’ So I opened the door. It’s just blacked out smoke,” Pryce told the newspaper. “And then I see flames. I broke for the door and got out. I lost everything, hard drive, computer, everything’s gone.”