After less than two hours of deliberations, jurors reached a verdict today in the trial of an alleged gang member accused of killing a family member in East Los Angeles and then opening fire on two Whittier police officers, killing one and wounding the other, about 4 1/2 years ago.
The jury’s verdict in the trial of Michael Christopher Mejia is set to be read Wednesday morning in a Norwalk courtroom. Mejia, 30, is charged with murder for the Feb. 20, 2017, killings of Keith Boyer, a 53-year-old Whittier police officer who was the first officer in the city killed in the line of duty in 37 years, and Mejia’s cousin, 47-year- old Roy Torres. The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties, murder for the purpose of avoiding arrest and multiple murders.
Mejia is also charged with one count each of attempted murder of a peace officer involving Whittier police Officer Patrick Hazell, who was shot in the abdomen, along with carjacking and possession of a firearm by a felon. The charges also include gang and gun allegations. In his closing argument Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron urged jurors to “hold him accountable, hold him accountable for the ruthless, inhumane killer he is.”
The prosecutor said the two police officers were responding to a three-vehicle traffic collision near Colima Road and Mar Vista Street in which Mejia had been involved, and that the two had no idea that those would be “the last moments” of Boyer’s life. Dameron called the evidence “so strong,” telling jurors that there was “clear intent to kill the victims in this case” and an “abundance of evidence” that Mejia premeditated the shootings.
The deputy district attorney told jurors that Mejia committed the crimes “to get attention” and wanted his face shown on the evening newscasts. Mejia’s attorney urged the panel to find his client guilty of the lesser crime of second-degree murder for each of the killings. Defense lawyer Paul Cohen argued that there is “no indication that he (Mejia) planned these crimes ahead of time.”
Cohen told jurors that there shouldn’t be any doubt that Mejia was using drugs in the days leading up to the crimes, saying that voluntary intoxication is “key to this case.” “It was all about drugs and getting high,” Mejia’s lawyer said. The defense attorney said his client “wasn’t a career criminal” and disputed whether his client was even an active gang member at the time.
In his rebuttal argument, Deputy District Attorney Geoff Lewin said the “most damaging evidence” came from the defendant himself, whom he said “admits to everything essentially.” The prosecutor countered that there was no evidence of a methamphetamine-induced psychosis in which Mejia didn’t know what he was doing at the time of the crimes.
Lewin concluded his rebuttal argument by playing an audio recording of Mejia telling investigators when asked if he had anything to say to the Whittier Police Department that they should “train your guys better” and that he didn’t feel sorry.
During the 48-minute interview in a hospital jail ward eight days after the killings, Mejia initially told sheriff’s Detectives Dean Camarillo and Omar Miranda about the killings, “I don’t honestly remember doing none of that … I was high on drugs …” But he later told the detectives, “I did it, I mean, I did it …both of ’em, all three of them had it coming,” adding that the “officer got too aggressive with me.”
“I guess you guys have everything down — smoked my cousin, smoked the cop. … I mean, what else do you guys want? I shot another cop,” Mejia said during that interview, which was first played in court in June 2017 at a hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial.
When asked by homicide investigators about what happened with Torres, the defendant said that his cousin should have “kept his nose clean” and that he had “warned him.” Mejia could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged. Over the objection of the two prosecutors in the trial, the District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid to seek the death penalty against Mejia in February.
The reversal came just over two months after new District Attorney George Gascon was sworn into office. Gascon — who said he had a “mandate from the public” — has vowed that the office will no longer pursue the death penalty Whittier Police Department Chief Aviv Bar and two of the victim’s family members spoke at a Feb. 18 hearing, with the chief asking for all of the applicable charges and penalties to remain in place. Bar said Boyer’s loss has been “devastating to our department” and said “we are just never going to be the same.” The victim’s son, Josh Boyer, called the day his father died “the worst day of my life” and said he is “wanting some justice.” One of Torres’ relatives, Tiffany Garcia, said, “I will be his voice, but this isn’t justice.”