Raven was one of the youngest and toughest Hollywood street runaways, living in alleys and back lots where beatings, drugs and prostitution are still common. Addicted to meth, the stunningly beautiful 15-year-old foster kid and runaway turned tricks to buy drugs.
Her real name was Alyssa Gomez, and she was murdered in a cruddy motel in Silver Lake on June 4, 2007. She became the subject of an L.A. Weekly cover story (June 19, 2008, “Raven: Death of a Hollywood Beauty”) and the focus of a documentary in the works by actress Dyan Cannon. At 12:15 p.m. on Monday, after almost three days of deliberations, Gilton Pitre, 38, was convicted of Gomez's murder.
Pitre killed her just days after he was released from prison on parole. But some say she was doomed by a system that can't prevent runaway kids from spiraling into oblivion. Gomez's mother, now deceased, an alleged 18th Street gang member and drug addict, and her alcoholic Mexican father, unsuccessfully fought in children's court to get custody of her.
Family members say Gomez's parents didn't stay off drugs and alcohol long enough to win her and her little sister Edie back from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Her loving grandmother died when Gomez was 9, and the two sisters were shuffled between relatives, the Hollygrove Home for Children and foster homes. Their older sister, Elaina Novoa, a young mother, sought custody of Gomez and Edie, but DCFS decided that Novoa's apartment wasn't big enough.
By age 15, the independent-minded Alyssa had become Raven. “She swore she would not go back through the county system,” said Novoa sadly. “She would say, 'Once I am 18, the system will let me go.' She was fighting the system. She was going to do it her way.”
She traded her long black hair and pink dresses for goth attire and a partially shaved Mohawk, and prophesied her own death in a dark poem that was a trademark of her MySpace writings.
Three days before she was slain, she met with Cannon, who had met Gomez years earlier through another Hollywood street kid. Moved by her strange life, Cannon interviewed her for a planned documentary featuring troubled children.
Cannon attended opening statements last week, comforting Gomez's sister Edie during the sometimes-raw testimony. The last time Cannon saw Gomez, “she was on crystal meth,” Cannon told the Weekly. “I begged her to let me take her to a place where she could get help. I said, 'I pray I don't get a call about a funeral.' … Three days later she was dead.”
Pitre strangled Gomez and left her in a deserted alley behind El Cid Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. Forty-five days after the murder, armed with evidence from motion-sensor video — after they traced the purchase of a comforter that Gomez's body had been wrapped in to the Olive Motel — police arrested Pitre, a convicted rapist and drug dealer. Later, DNA evidence also linked him to her murder.
The 5-foot-7-inch Pitre, who has a tiger tattooed over much of his face, served time in 1994 for burglary. In the late 1990s, he was sentenced to just three years in prison for raping his roommate. According to a search warrant affidavit, Pitre wrapped a cord around his roommate's neck to “choke and control her before he moved her to another room, where he sodomized and raped her.”
Just four days before killing Gomez, Pitre was again released from prison — this time after a conviction for selling marijuana near the Kodak Theatre. He returned to Hollywood, where, according to testimony, he saw Gomez on the streets and badgered her into hanging out with him, then killed her.
“Something is terribly wrong when one of our kids can slip through the cracks and end up in an alleyway,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Sam Hulefeld during the weeklong trial attended by Elaina Novoa and her sister Edie, now 16 and living with Novoa. Also attending were social workers from My Friend's Place, a drop-in center for Hollywood teens, where Gomez hung out.
Gomez's friend Joel Avelar testified that on the evening of her death, he ran into her at the 7 Days Market on Hollywood Boulevard, where the two of them were approached by Pitre, a stranger who wanted to know if Gomez wanted to hang out with him.
Avelar, 22, might not be the ideal witness if this were a trial about murder in the suburbs. He's in custody for alleged stealing, so during his four-hour testimony a deputy stood next to him. But this is a trial involving the underbelly of Hollywood, which is thriving despite the billions of public and private dollars spent on redevelopment, trendy clubs and posh hotels. Avelar was a star witness.
After Gomez told Pitre she'd be back later, the two friends walked to the 76 gas station on Hollywood Boulevard near Tommy's Hamburgers. But there, they found him leaning nonchalantly against a gas pump. He pestered Gomez, asking, “Are we gonna hang out?” and she replied: “Hold the fuck on. I'll be back.”
The two teens went to a party, but Gomez left. Avelar testified that he never saw her again. In fact, Hulefeld told the jury that Pitre picked up Gomez in his gold Cadillac Seville and drove her to the gritty Olive Motel. “When he finished having sex with her, he strangled her till she lost consciousness,” he said. “After he killed her, he wrapped her in a hotel bedspread and dumped her in a deserted alley before dawn.”
In a disturbing gotcha video that prosecutors say caught Pitre “red-handed,” Hulefeld showed footage from a surveillance camera in which Pitre checks into the Olive Motel at 11:22 p.m. A few minutes later, footage shows him walking to room 5 with a dark-haired girl carrying a black bag. Then, at about 4 a.m., a different camera captures Pitre toting the black bag and moving his car — with the headlights off — to a parking spot close to room 5. Soon after that, a third camera picks up Pitre carrying a large object, wrapped in a comforter, to his car.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Hulefeld as he froze the photo of Pitre carrying the object as the jury watched on a large screen. The silhouette of Gomez's head and shoulders was clearly visible in the frozen image. “Nobody deserves that. Nobody. She was laid to rest on the same mean streets she called home.”
Gomez's 40-year-old friend John Hurley testified that he met her through a drug dealer at a bus stop in Hollywood. “She came over with one of my dealers and we got high,” he said. “She was very funny. She loved photography.”
He invited her to live with him at his one-bedroom apartment in Glendale because he “thought she needed protecting.” According to Hurley, who is gay, she was suffering from an abscess and wasn't taking her medication. “I insisted she stay with me till her infection went away,” he said.
Gomez and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Matthew Kent, stayed with Hurley off and on, getting high on meth and sometimes not sleeping for days. Hurley testified that Kent was at his home the entire weekend that Gomez vanished. The defense suggested Kent was responsible for the murder. Asked how he could be so sure Kent never left his apartment, Hurley testified: “I could see his feet and smell him.”
Pitre's defense attorney Thomas Ahearn noted that Kent was arrested for having sex with Gomez as a minor, and that a protection order was at one point issued against him, barring him from contact with her.
Ahearn asked Hurley whether letting Kent stay with Gomez at his apartment was his idea of “protecting” the girl. Hurley responded: “It was either [Gomez] staying at my place or turning tricks on the street or living, you know, in a cardboard box or an alley or getting picked up by someone that she didn't know that wasn't a safe person, and being killed.
“Yeah, I thought I was protecting her.”
Pitre, stone-faced when the verdict was read, will be sentenced on June 3.
Says Novoa, “This was a long, long wait. Every family needs justice.”
Steve La conducted research for this story.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.