3 Plead Not Guilty to Gang-Related Revenge Arson, 12 Murder Counts
Lopez, Valerio and Monge, l-r (KTLA)
LOS ANGELES — The death penalty could be presented to two gang members and a woman charged with capital murder in an arson fire fueled by revenge at a Westlake apartment building. The historic, decades-old revenge arson killed seven children, a woman, and two pregnant women.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that 43-year-old Palmdale resident Ramiro Valerio, aka Greedy, 41-year-old Montebello resident Joseph Monge, aka Droopy, and 51-year-old Johanna Lopez were each charged with 12 counts of murder as well as special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder in the commission of an arson.
According to prosecutors, the alleged defendants took action on May 3, 1993 when the apartment manager and others wanted to prevent drug deals in the complex on the 300 block of Burlington Avenue, west of downtown.
A retaliation fire erupted as the manager was moving furniture into her second-floor apartment. Her mattress was set ablaze in the hallway, and smoke spread throughout the building.
One month prior, two suspicious fires on the premises prompted fire inspectors to note that fire doors were propped open and alarms were not functioning properly.
The owner was required to conduct fire patrols every half-hour. The patrols never happened, and the fire doors remained open during the fiery tragedy. This deadly event prompted widespread calls for improvements in city fire inspections.
Those killed include: Olga Leon (24, pregnant), and her three children, Rosia (7), Jesus and Jose (both 4), Alejandrina Roblero, (29), and her three children, Leyver, (11), William and Yadira, (both 6), and Rosalia Ruiz, (21, pregnant) and Lancy Mateo (1). All who died from smoke inhalation were on the top floor. Dozens of others were injured.
Deputy District Attorneys Victor Avila of the Major Crimes Division, Catherine Chon of the Organized Crimes Division, and Adan Montalban of the Hardcore Gang Division are prosecuting the case.
All three defendants are being held without bail pending their next appearance February 15 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse for a readiness conference. They could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole, if convicted as charged.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division is conducting the ongoing investigation.