Two Los Angeles gang members were sentenced Friday to 30 years to life in prison for a pair of home-invasion robberies in Orange Hills.

Orange County Superior Court. Photo by John Schreiber
Orange County Superior Court. Photo by John Schreiber
Dwight Ladale Stephen, 28, and Andre Ricardo Pierson, 25, could have faced more than 100 years to life in prison for their July 29 convictions, but a friend of Stephen’s — who described herself as one of “Dwight’s mothers” — and Pierson’s fiancee pleaded with Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue to show mercy.

Eden Harman-Bernardy told Donahue,”I know a very different Dwight then you’ve had the misfortune to see in this courtroom.”

She said Stephen comforted her dying father with an “enormous smile” as he struggled with dementia, which sometimes made him “belligerent.”

She also told Donahue how Stephen made a point every day after school of visiting with her nephew who had “profound autism,” and got him to be more social through video games and other play.

“I pray that the families will find forgiveness and the court will show mercy today,” Harman-Bernardy said.

Pierson’s fiancee, Paige Smith, tearfully told the judge she has seen the defendant mature since they met.

“He is a rock for a lot of people like me,” she said. “He is a wonderful father to his son… Please give him a chance to be the father he never had.”

Donahue noted the defendants had often been uncooperative and would give his staff “a hard time” when they first began appearing in his courtroom, but over time they became better behaved.

“Both of you are smart guys,” he said. “Smarter than most people sitting in those chairs.”

The judge also noted no one was physically assaulted during the home invasions.

Prosecutors dismissed a burglary charge involving an unoccupied residence the pair were accused of breaking into. A mistrial was declared on that count when jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Co-defendant Curtis Ray Robinson, 27, who is awaiting sentencing, pleaded guilty April 28 to that burglary. He also admitted robbery, assault with a firearm and street terrorism, all felonies. He is expected to get nearly 20 years behind bars, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon.

On Aug. 12, 2013, three homes were robbed in the Orange Hills cul-de-sac, Zimmon said.

The first home was unoccupied and the burglars did not get away with anything because nothing of value was stored in the residence, Zimmon said. In a neighboring residence, a husband and wife were detained as the thieves rummaged around for valuables, Zimmon said. When the victims’ 22-year-old daughter got home, they also detained her, the prosecutor said.

In that robbery, the thieves took about $40,000 in valuables.

Stephen and Pierson then went to another home, broke in and detained a husband, wife, 90-year-old grandfather and the wife’s sister, but not before a struggle with their captors, Zimmon said.

The robbers forced one of the victims to open a safe from which they stole various legal documents like passports and Social Security cards, he said. An alarm was set off during the robbery, prompting the suspects to flee.

The next day, while Robinson was under surveillance in an unrelated case, Los Angeles police arrested him after seeing him dump a bag of the legal documents, Zimmon said.

Attorneys for Stephen and Pierson argued that investigators got the wrong suspects and that it couldn’t be proven the defendants were anywhere near the Orange County crime scenes.

Investigators, however, concluded the three were at the scene of the robberies based on their cell phone use, Zimmon said. Also, one of the suspects drank an orange-flavored beverage during the heists and DNA from the discarded bottle was matched to Stephen, Zimmon said.

— City News Service

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