June 16, 2024
Alleged gang members targeted victims in parking lots in Los Angeles County, but prosecutors said the robbery of Jessie Munoz went bad.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has filed murder charges against three men who allegedly robbed and killed a driver parked at a scenic overlook along the Angeles Crest Highway in late July.

The men, Luis Ventura, 24, Marco Antonio Hernandez, 18, and Abraham Ernesto Alvarenga Cortez, 21, were each charged with two counts of robbery and one count of murder for the July 22 slaying of Jessie Munoz, 32, during a botched robbery.

Prosecutors have asked for $2.1 million in bail for each.

“The heinous actions that led to the robbery and murder of Mr. Jessie Enrique Munoz is an appalling and reprehensible display of disregard for human life,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Mr. Munoz’s family and friends who are coping with the pain of this senseless act, including his female companion who also was a victim of robbery at the time of this crime. We will work tirelessly to hold these three individuals accountable for their actions.”

Alvarenga Cortez is alleged to have personally used a handgun in the robbery-homicide, according to prosecutors.

Ventura, who has been in custody on robbery charges since July 26, pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on Sept. 1. Hernandez and Cortez are scheduled to appear for arraignment on Sept. 11.

The Pasadena Police Department originally arrested Ventura, Wendy Sarai Cerritos, 21, and Rossel Jose Hernandez, 20, and three others for their suspected involvement in the attack more than a month ago. Three unnamed suspects were released two days later and prosecutors filed only robbery — not murder — charges at the time.

Ventura, Cerritos and Rossel Hernandez are not scheduled to appear in court again until Oct. 6.

All five suspects are allegedly part of a street gang that targeted drivers parked at scenic overlooks throughout Los Angeles County. The group robbed at least four other people parked along the Angeles Crest Highway in the days before they set upon and killed Munoz, 32.

The California Highway Patrol, responding to what officers thought was a traffic collision about 3:30 a.m. July 22, found Munoz’s damaged sedan off the side of the road. They attempted to provide medical assistance, but Munoz, who had been shot multiple times, died at the scene.

Prosecutors allege four men, including an unidentified fourth suspect, were involved in the killing.

The Pasadena Police Department arrested Ventura, Cerritos and Rossel Hernandez during a July 25 operation that tracked the suspects’ vehicle across multiple cities. Officers surrounded the car in Panorama City and took them into custody at gunpoint, showed a video uploaded to YouTube.

Police took Marco Hernandez into custody on Aug. 29, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Inmate Locator. It’s unclear if Alvarenga Cortez was arrested at the same time.

A spokesperson for the Pasadena Police Department did not respond to a request to comment on the new murder charges.

The department hastily scheduled a press conference to update the media on the case on Aug. 31, then canceled it less than an hour later. A press release was supposed to be “forthcoming,” but, nearly a week later, it has yet to surface.

Investigators suspect the same group involved in the Pasadena slaying carried out another robbery-turned-homicide in a beachside parking lot in Rancho Palos Verdes two days after Munoz’s killing. There, three males approached Jorge Ramos, 36, and TaylorRaven Whittaker, 26, in a parking lot overlooking Pelican Cove. The men opened fire on their Subaru, killing both Ramos and Whittaker.

A fourth suspect, believed to be a woman, acted as the getaway driver in that crime, investigators said previously.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the agency in charge of that part of the investigation, issued a statement on the progress of its probe.

“The investigation remains ongoing regarding the homicide which occurred in Palos Verdes and is independent of the investigation being handled by the Pasadena Police Department. To date, no arrests have been made.”

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