A half-dozen gang members were convicted Thursday of murder and other charges stemming from a string of shootings in Lennox, Carson and Gardena in late 2015 and early 2016, in which four of the seven victims were homeless.
A downtown Los Angeles jury found Taniela Fonoifua, 25, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the Oct. 6, 2015, slaying of Sheila Gomez, 40, in Lennox and the Oct. 17, 2015, death of Adalberto Salcedo III, 15, in Carson, along with two counts of attempted murder involving a man with Gomez and a separate shooting on Jan. 26, 2016, in Gardena. Jurors also convicted Fonoifua of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon and found true allegations that he personally discharged a gun during each of the crimes.
Samisoni Ilifeleti Lauaki, 21, was convicted of first-degree murder for the Nov. 9, 2015, shooting death of Kenneth Campos, 37, in Lennox, but acquitted of murder involving Salcedo’s killing. Jurors also found him guilty of two counts of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
Co-defendants Lebanon Fifita, 44, Fonuamana Ofeina Fuahala, 25, Calvin Leonard Tonga, 26, and Otoniel Ventura-Leon, 28, were each convicted of first-degree murder for Campos’ killing, along with two counts each of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Fifita was also convicted of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, while jurors found that Fifita and Fuahala each personally discharged a handgun in the attack on Campos and his wife, the latter of whom was wounded.
Jurors found true gang allegations against the six, who are each facing potential state prison terms of more than 100 years to life. They are due back before Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe on Nov. 30, when a sentencing date could be set.
Deputy District Attorney Heather Steggell told jurors that the six defendants are members of a “violent, ruthless criminal street gang” made up primarily of Pacific Islanders.
“(They) go out hunting. It’s sport for them,” the prosecutor said in her opening statement.
Like other gangs, they commit “graffiti, robberies, burglaries, assault with deadly weapons and murder,” but the difference with the defendants’ gang is that they “will shoot anybody,” Steggell told jurors.
Among the four homeless victims were a husband and wife who were “ambushed” while going to pick up day-old doughnuts from a storekeeper willing to help them, according to the prosecutor.
Gomez and a man she was sitting with on a bench in Lennox Park were “minding their own business” when they were approached and chased on Oct. 6, 2015, the deputy district attorney said.
Gomez was shot to death, and the man with her is “pretty messed up” even after 11 surgeries, Steggell said.
Salcedo, a rival gang member who was wearing a red hat with the letter P indicating gang allegiance, was shot to death while walking with his 16-year-old girlfriend to get a hamburger in broad daylight in Carson on Oct. 17, 2015, according to the prosecutor. His girlfriend ran for cover.
The next round of shootings early the morning of Nov. 9, 2015, were prompted by a confrontation an afternoon earlier outside a Tongan church in Lennox, in which a man and two women were approached by a man on a bicycle who pointed a gun and asked if they were gang members, according to the prosecutor. He rode off when they denied any gang affiliation.
“This is what sets everything in motion” because it was the “ultimate sign of disrespect” and a “green light for retaliation,” Steggell told the jury.
All of the defendants except Fonoifua went out “trolling the neighborhood” in two vehicles — a gold Mercury Marquis driven by Tonga and a white van driven by Ventura-Leon — when they spotted a man walking alone around midnight, who survived five bullet wounds, according to the prosecutor.
The men subsequently chased after a man on a bicycle who managed to elude them and then were “so frustrated … that they shot the next people they saw — homeless people just trying to get day-old doughnuts,” Steggell told the jury.
The panel found true allegations that Fifita and Fuahala gunned down Campos around 3 a.m. Nov. 9, 2015, at the back door to the doughnut shop. He died there, at the corner of 111th Street and Hawthorne Boulevard, and his wife has undergone a dozen surgeries as a result of injuries she sustained in the attack, according to the prosecutor.
The last shooting was on Jan. 26, 2016, in Gardena, when Fonoifua walked up to a man on Chardon Avenue in Gardena, gave the name of his gang and then fired multiple shots, wounding the victim, Steggell said.
Along with the three victims who were killed, four people were wounded in the series of shootings.
The prosecutor told jurors that the evidence against the six included wiretapped calls, text messages and cell phone data to pinpoint the defendants’ locations at the time of the murders, telling jurors that the men shared motive and a “hunting mentality.”