The man accused of going on a San Fernando Valley killing spree — gunning down his father, brother, a woman he knew and a total stranger on a bus — was charged Monday with four counts of capital murder.
Gerry Dean Zaragoza, 26, who is unemployed and described by family members as violent and having a history of drug use, pleaded not guilty to the four murder charges, two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery. He was ordered to return to court Sept. 3, when a date is expected to be set for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
The criminal complaint includes a special-circumstance allegation of multiple murders, opening Zaragoza to a possible death sentence if convicted. Prosecutors will later decide whether to pursue the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. He remains jailed without bail.
Zaragoza is accused of killing his 56-year-old father, Carlos I. Zaragoza, and his 33-year-old brother, Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, in a Canoga Park apartment, and 45-year-old Azucena Lepe — who relatives say was known as Susie — at a North Hollywood Shell gas station.
Zaragoza is also suspected in an attempted robbery outside a bank in Canoga Park and the fatal shooting of a man — Detwonia Harris, 55, of Reseda — aboard an Orange Line bus in Van Nuys.
The first shooting occurred at 1:50 a.m. Thursday at an apartment in the 21000 block of Roscoe Boulevard, near DeSoto Avenue, police said.
Paramedics pronounced Zaragoza’s father and brother dead at the scene and took his mother, a woman in her 50s, to a hospital in stable condition, according to police. She was shot in a hand, according to prosecutors.
At the gas station in North Hollywood, Zaragoza allegedly shot Lepe and critically wounded a man working with her at the station. Police said Zaragoza was acquainted with Lepe. Some of her relatives on Friday disputed initial reports that Lepe was his ex-girlfriend, but her sister told CBS2 the pair dated briefly until she broke off the relationship — after which Zaragoza became obsessed with her and continued to harass her. Lepe’s brother said Zaragoza had been harassing his sister for about a year.
Relatives said Lepe was a mother of four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18.
Michael Ramia, who was Carlos I. Zaragoza’s boss, told reporters the suspect was described by his father as “very violent.”
“He told me (Gerry Zaragoza) was violent in the house. He was very violent,” Ramia told reporters outside the Canoga Park apartment. “And I told Carlos, I said, `Carlos, get rid of him, you know? Just take him to rehab.”’
Ramia said Gerry Zaragoza had a history of drug problems and was unemployed.
A GoFundMe page for the Zaragoza family has been set up at www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-zaragoza-family.
About 7:20 a.m. Thursday, Zaragoza allegedly tried to rob a man outside a bank at Sherman Way and Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Canoga Park, police said. The suspect allegedly pulled a handgun on a man about 40 years old, but he fled when he realized the victim had no money, police said.
At about 1:50 p.m., Harris was fatally shot aboard an Orange Line bus at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, and a suspect generally matching the description of Zaragoza was seen running from the scene.
“He didn’t even talk to his last victim,” LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes, commander of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. “He’s getting off the bus and he turns and shoots the person. It doesn’t look like there was any interaction between them.”
Los Angeles police responded in force, setting up a perimeter that stretched from Woodley to Haskell Avenue, between Victory and Vanowen Street.
At about 2 p.m. Zaragoza was spotted in Canoga Park, about seven miles from the location of the bus shooting. He was taken into custody after “a small use of force” near the intersection of Canoga Avenue and Gault Street, according to Hayes.
NBC4 reported that police used a stun gun on Zaragoza during the arrest. The suspect was placed into an ambulance and taken to a hospital to be checked out before being booked into jail.
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