Two men — one who was a lookout and the other a getaway driver — were convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the deaths of two members of their robbery crew during a botched San Juan Capistrano jewelry store heist.
Alan Keith Hunter and James Stephan Paschall, who were prosecuted under the legal theory of “provocative murder” for igniting a chain of events that turned fatal, are scheduled to be sentenced May 15.
Jurors deliberated for about six hours before convicting Hunter, 42, of Moreno Valley, and Paschall, 44, of Gardena, of murder and second-degree robbery charges.
Their cases involved a rare prosecution of the legal theory of “provocative murder” that can hold a defendant accountable for a killing if their actions spurred someone else to take deadly action, Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons said.
“I’m just glad (jurors) followed the law and applied it with the verdict,” the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys argued the two men should not be held responsible for the fatal shootings because they did not take actions that escalated the violence.
“I’m disappointed that this antiquated law was able to convict my client with the evidence the people had,” said attorney Michael J. Curls, who represented Hunter.
Robert Earl Avery and Desmond Brown, both 39-year-old Los Angeles residents, were killed on June 24, 2011, at Monaco Jewelers, 33955 Doheny Park Road.
Avery, dressed in combat fatigues and wearing sunglasses, was buzzed into the locked store about 11:15 a.m. that day by the owner’s son, Jason Gulvartian Jr., Simmons said. Avert feigned interest in watches in the display cases before pulling a gun on the store’s owner, the prosecutor said.
The store’s manager, Ron Pashian, had an “uncomfortable feeling” about Avery so he warned the owner, Jason Gulvartian Sr., to “keep an eye on this,” Simmons said.
Pashian was opening a drawer where he had a gun stashed when Avery started rushing toward him in the back of the store, Simmons said. Avery grabbed the store manager by the shoulder and held the gun up to his chest and then his head. But before he could do anything else, the store owner opened fire with his own gun, Simmons said.
Avery tumbled to the floor, taking Pashian down with him, Simmons said.
Brown started rushing to the back of the store, drawing gunfire from Gulvartian Sr. before the store owner shouted “I’m out of bullets!”, Simmons said.
That prompted Pashian to grab his own gun and open fire on Brown, Simmons said. He said the manager’s weapon jammed, however, because it had the wrong size bullets in it as he aimed at a third alleged robber, Eddie Clark Jr., 30.
Clark will receive a plea deal as part of the resolution of his father’s case, Simmons said. Eddie Clark Sr., 53, testified for the prosecution, Simmons said.
Clark Jr. ran for the door after his two cohorts were gunned down, Simmons said. Pashian kicked the gun away from Avery, and Gulvartian Sr. put it in a towel and took it to the rear of the store until authorities arrived, Simmons said.
Part of the case against Hunter was made on his DNA found on a phone left behind at the crime scene, Simmons said. Brown’s phone records showed calls to Hunter and Paschall at the time of the robbery, the prosecutor said.
Paschall’s DNA was found in a Toyota Camry the crew stole for the heist and dumped near the crime scene, Simmons said.
Another co-defendant, George Anthony Boozer, 39, also accepted a plea deal to testify against Paschall and Hunter, Simmons said.
Hunter’s attorney noted that Brown was unarmed in the robbery and never carried a gun during his crimes because the potential punishment was far greater with a weapon involved. Curls also claimed that Brown was shot in the back, which was part of his argument against the provocative act legal theory.
“It raises a question about what kind of menace Mr. Brown posed,” Curls said in his opening statement in the trial.
The killing of Avery does not apply to the legal theory because he was the provocateur, Curls argued.
“His conduct results in his own death,” Curls said.
Boozer is a “professional liar and a thief” who has grown accustomed to a life of “extravagance,” according to Curls, who described Boozer as the “mastermind” of the robbery.
Clark Sr. saw an “opportunity to do penance” and help his son with plea deals, Curls said.
“Snitches are thieves who become liars who look for opportunities,” Curls said. “The minute (Boozer) was picked up, the first words he uttered were he wanted to cooperate and he wanted to get a deal.”
Paschall’s attorney, Wayne Higgins, said his client “was not in the jewelry store the date of the incident.”
Boozer, who pleaded guilty on May 22, 2013, to assault with a semiautomatic firearm and five counts of attempted second-degree robbery, is expected to be sentenced to 12 years and four months in prison, Simmons said.
Clark Sr. pleaded guilty Dec. 12 to four counts of attempted second- degree robbery and assault with a semiautomatic firearm and is expected to be sentenced to 10 years in prison. His son is expected to receive the same deal, Simmons said.
— City News Service