A parolee was headed to death row Friday after being sentenced to die for murdering three people and trying to kill two others in Downey while posing as a prospective buyer of a Chevrolet Camaro.
Jade Douglas Harris — who was prosecuted under prior Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s administration — is the first person to be sentenced to death during current District Attorney George Gascón’s administration.
Superior Court Judge Raul A. Sahagun refused to allow a statement to be read in court on behalf of Gascón, according to Deputy District Attorney John McKinney. The county’s top prosecutor reiterated in that statement that he “does not believe the death penalty is an appropriate punishment in any case” and asked that the court consider Gascón’s policy on the death penalty “in exercising its sentencing discretion in this matter.”
The judge, who had earlier denied a motion for a new trial, also rejected an automatic motion to reduce the jury’s March 2020 recommendation of death for the 39-year-old defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In a Tweet posted shortly before Thursday’s sentencing, McKinney called it “one of the most horrendous crimes I ever prosecuted.”
“If he committed the same murders today, DA Gascón wouldn’t charge special circs (circumstances) or gun allegations and Harris would be eligible for parole after just 20 years,” the prosecutor wrote in his Tweet.
Harris was convicted in February 2020 of three counts of murder for the Oct. 24, 2012, killings of Irene Cardenas Reyes, 35; Josimar Rojas, 26; and Susana Perez Ruelas, 34.
Jurors also found true the special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of a burglary, carjacking and kidnapping.
Harris was also convicted of two counts of attempted murder involving two other people who were wounded, along with four counts of kidnapping for carjacking and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
In his closing argument, McKinney had told jurors that the evidence showed “beyond all doubt” that Harris “executed” the three victims and tried to kill two others, including Ruelas’ 13-year-old son, to silence them as witnesses so he could take the Camaro without paying for it.
Harris had been paroled in July 2012 — just three months shy of the killings — after being convicted in 2005 of robbery and attempted robbery, McKinney said.
“He’s not going back to prison with another robbery,” the prosecutor said, telling jurors that Harris “systematically starts to execute them in front of Susana” at United States Fire Protection, a business in the 8700 block of Cleta Street in Downey. He had gone to the business under the “ruse” of being interested in buying the car, which had been advertised online, according to the prosecutor.
Rojas and Reyes were bound and placed on their knees before being shot in the head.
Harris then forced Ruelas to drive with her 13-year-old son to the family’s home, where the 2010 Camaro was parked, and fatally shot her and wounded her son before driving to Los Angeles in the car, McKinney said.
The prosecutor ended his closing argument by playing a recording of what he called one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in the case — the emotional 911 call from Ruelas’ teenage son, who told an emergency dispatcher that his mother had been killed and that he had been shot.
The car was recovered the next day, with DNA matching Harris’ found on a headrest, according to the prosecutor, who noted that gunshot residue was also discovered on a pair of the defendant’s jeans.
Harris was arrested a day after the killings and has remained jailed without bail since.