LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Two reputed gang members were charged with murder Monday in connection to the fatal shooting of a 41-year-old man who went to South Los Angeles to buy a cellphone that was advertised on Craigslist.
Ryan Roth, 17, and Markell Thomas, 18, who were both arrested last week, were charged with murder and attempted murder, along with two counts each of second-degree robbery, according to the district attorney’s office.
The murder charge includes a special circumstances allegation that the killing was committed during a robbery, which makes it a capital offense.
Unlike Thomas, however, Roth is not eligible for the death penalty because he’s a minor.
Thomas’ arraignment was postponed until Nov. 12. Roth’s arraignment will also probably be delayed until a later time.
Around 7:40 p.m. Oct. 19, Rene Balbuena and his 15-year-old son drove to the area of 92nd Street and Gramercy Place to purchase a $300 cellphone advertised on Craigslist, authorities said.
At a news conference, Los Angeles police Det. Chris Barling said Balbuena texted Roth and Thomas to alert them as he and his son arrived at the planned location.
The suspects then reportedly approached the victim’s vehicle.
“They began to rob the Balbuenas,” Barling said. “Suspect Markell Thomas entered the rear passenger seat of the Balbuenas’ vehicle and pointed a gun at the 15-year-old. Both suspects demanded property. Mr. Balbuena exited the car at one point and suspect Ryan Roth shot Mr. Balbuena. His son was also struck by gunfire. Both suspects then fled the scene on foot.”
Balbuena, who was shot multiple times in the torso, was taken to California Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
His son suffered a graze wound and was released two days later.
At Monday’s news conference, an emotional Sandra Balbuena, Rene’s daughter, said her dad “was my best friend. He meant everything to me. Nothing is going to bring him back.”
Barling would not reveal what led detectives to Roth and Thomas, but said Roth had a gun in his backpack when he was taken into custody.
The weapon, however, was not used in the slaying, Barling said.
Meantime, authorities are trying to find out if the incident is related to seven other Craigslist robberies between Aug. 2 and Oct. 7 in the Baldwin Hills area.
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