A Lancaster man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from the gang-related shooting deaths of two men in the South Los Angeles neighborhood where they grew up and the wounding of a man who was shielding his child from the gunfire.

Jonathan Charles Johnson, 27, is charged with the Aug. 14 murders of Jose Flores Velazquez and Alfredo Carrera, both 24, who were gunned down in the 1100 block of East 68th Street.

The murder counts include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with allegations that Johnson personally and intentionally discharged a firearm.

Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Johnson, who is also charged with one count each of attempted murder and shooting from a motor vehicle.

Flores Velazquez and Carrera, who were longtime friends, had grown up together six houses apart on the street where they were shot.

Flores Velazquez was a physics doctoral student at UC Irvine and had his sights set on a job at NASA. Carrera was about to become a first-time father.

The two were standing near a parked SUV about 7 that evening when a vehicle pulled up and a passenger opened fire. The third man was shot a short distance away as the car sped off.

Flores Velazquez died at the scene, and Carrera was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Two days later, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Clarita Station spotted the 2004 blue Nissan Maxima believed used in the crime and made a traffic stop at the corner of Via Princessa and Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, authorities said.

Deputies arrested Johnson, who was behind the wheel of the Maxima, and detained his 25-year-old female passenger, who was later released without being charged, according to the sheriff’s department.

The victims didn’t know the people in the car, according to investigators.

Johnson — who is jailed without bail — is due back in a Norwalk courtroom Nov. 21, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.

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