UPDATE at 4:40 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016: Police say the defendants and victims knew each other. Details are at the bottom.
Two gang associates were charged in the horrific murders of two female teens whose bodies were found in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park Oct. 28.
The defendants, Jose Antonio Echeverria, 18, and Dallas Stone Pineda, 17, have gang nicknames, Klepto and Trippy, respectively, and allegedly murdered 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada and 17-year-old Briana Gallegos in allegiance to their gang, prosecutors said in their criminal complaint, revealed today.
The homicides took place Oct. 27, a day before the teens' bodies were found near a park pathway by a passerby, the complain alleges. Calzada was felled with a rifle fired by Echeverria, prosecutors said.
The charging documents do not make clear what role prosecutors believe Pineda had in the killings. Prosecutors simply say that Echeverria and Pineda “intentionally” killed both teens.
In apparently unrelated charges, Echeverria committed attempted murder, shot at an occupied vehicle, and discharged a firearm, prosecutors alleged. He also smuggled meth and a device to use it into the Los Angeles Police Department's Metropolitan Detention Center Jan. 30, according to the allegations.
The victims, Calzada and Gallegos, were friends from the Northeast L.A. area. Calzada had completed Aztecs Rising's Gang Reduction Youth Development gang-intervention program and was hoping to become a firefighter, a mentor told us.
The murders shocked a community reeling from the years-old, unsolved homicides of 22-year-old Bree'Anna Guzman and 17-year-old Michelle Lozano, also from the Northeast L.A. area.
But no connections to the Calzada-and-Gallegos case were made by police.
The LAPD scheduled a 4:15 p.m. news conference to discuss the investigation.
UPDATE at 4:40 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016: At the news conference today, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the victims and alleged killers knew each other.
“This is a case that's gang-motivated,” he said. “They were known to the suspects who committed the murder. They were also specifically targeted by those suspects.”
One of the teens was shot, and both had been beaten, the chief said. “One of the victims was shot,” Beck said. “Both the victims were bludgeoned.”
Breaks in the case came after LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide Division took it over from local Hollenbeck Division detectives in late November. The local cops didn't have the proper resources, the chief said. Dozens of investigators worked on the case, he said.
Forensic evidence and dozens of witness interviews will weigh in along “the road to a long and difficult prosecution,” Beck said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti mourned the girls' deaths and noted that Calzada's time with the Aztecs Rising's Gang Reduction Youth Development program, first reported by L.A. Weekly, was funded by his office's gang-intervention efforts.
“She had committed herself to turning her life around,” he said.
In a statement this afternoon, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said the so-called gang and gun enhancements that are part of its case could make at least one of the defendants eligible for the death penalty.
“Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Echeverria,” the office said in a statement. “Pineda is not eligible for the death penalty because he is under the age of 18. He faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.”