The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to review the case of a gang member who is serving a 90-year-to-life sentence for the 2016 murder of an expectant father outside a South Los Angeles barbershop.
Tyrone Foster, now 27, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019 for the killing of Robert Ellis, who was shot about 2:15 p.m. on March 25, 2016, at the corner of South Vermont Avenue and 55th Street.
Jurors also found Foster guilty of five counts of premeditated attempted murder and found true gun and gang allegations against him.
The 27-year-old victim was standing with roughly a dozen other people in a parking lot outside the shop, awaiting his turn in the chair that afternoon, when Foster sprang up from a crouched position behind a car and fired seven shots from a semi-automatic weapon, according to a court summary.
Ellis was struck by a single bullet to the chest and died within moments.
Detective Shawn Svoboda of the LAPD’s Criminal Gang Homicide Division said at the time of the shooting that Ellis’ girlfriend was expecting a baby, and he “had just learned that he was going to be a father.” Relatives said later that Ellis’ girlfriend suffered a miscarriage after his death.
Surveillance footage captured the shooting, including Foster walking down an alley to the strip mall and later running away.
The barbershop was in a strip mall known as a gang hangout that had been the location of multiple shootings over the years, according to court documents. Ellis was a regular customer of the barbershop, but was not in a gang or wearing anything that would suggest gang membership.
The Los Angeles City Council offered a $50,000 reward for help in solving the case, and detectives released surveillance images that included the suspect’s face. Based on tips received, a review of images posted to Facebook and cell phone records, detectives obtained a warrant for Foster’s arrest.
Reviewing Foster’s cell phone after his arrest, investigators found a search for “how long can gunpowder last on your clothes.”
Foster testified in his own defense, admitting to being a member of a gang, but characterizing it as a way of socializing and gaining street cred for his music.
He told jurors he didn’t remember where he was on the day of the shooting but that he commonly visited the area of the shooting to see family and shop.
Foster said he told lies to the undercover agent installed as his cellmate that made him seem guilty because he was scared of the man and trying to appear dangerous.
A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld Foster’s conviction, rejecting the defense’s contention that the trial court should not have admitted statements the defendant made to an undercover agent while in jail, and that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction on the five counts of attempted murder or to characterize the shooting as gang-related.
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