LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – An ex-convict pleaded not guilty Wednesday to attempted murder and other charges in connection with the ambush shooting of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies earlier this month in Compton.
Deonte Lee Murray, 36, pleaded not guilty to two counts each of attempted murder of a peace officer and possession of a firearm by a felon in connection with the Sept. 12 attack on the deputies, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
He was previously charged Sept. 17 with one felony count each of carjacking, second-degree robbery and assault with a semi-automatic firearm involving a Sept. 1 carjacking in Compton, in which he allegedly shot a man in the leg with a high-powered rifle and stole his black Mercedes-Benz. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and has remained behind bars since his Sept. 15 arrest.
Two additional charges stemming from the earlier crime — attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon — have since been added, prosecutors said.
Murray’s bail was increased from just over $1 million to $6.15 million as a result of the new charges.
He is due back in court Nov. 17.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva and L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the arrest of Murray at a news conference Wednesday morning at LASD headquarters in downtown L.A.
Murray was arrested on Sept. 15, three days after the deputies were shot, but in connection with an unrelated carjacking and shooting which had occurred in Compton on Sept. 1, Lacey said. Forensic evidence later linked him to the shooting of the two deputies.
A ghost gun used in the shooting of the deputies was recovered by investigators, sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener told reporters.
Furthermore, Murray fled the scene of the deputies’ shooting in a black Mercedes Benz sedan, the same vehicle which Murray had carjacked on Sept. 1, Wegener revealed.
On the evening of Sept. 12, the two sheriff’s deputies who were shot in an unprovoked ambush while sitting in their patrol car in Compton.
The deputies were in their patrol vehicle parked outside the Metro Compton Blue Line station at Willowbrook Avenue and Elm Street when a lone suspect approached the front passenger side of the car and opened fire, wounding them both.
The deputies, a 31-year-old mother and her 24-year-old male partner, were rushed to St. Francis Medical Center in critical condition. Both survived and have since been released from the hospital.
In the Sept. 1 carjacking, which occurred on Bradfield Avenue in Compton, Murray shot a man in the leg with a high powered rifle and stole his Mercedes, Wegener disclosed.
Prior to his capture, investigators suspected that Murray may have been responsible for both the carjacking and the deputies’ shooting.
“The carjacking suspect’s photograph, when compared to the suspect’s image in the surveillance video of the attempted murder, strengthened the possibility that he was involved,” Wagener said.
Murray was arrested Sept. 15 following a 10-hour standoff. At around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, detectives located Murray, but he fled in a 2006 Toyota Solara. During the pursuit, he threw a pistol from the car.
He then ditched the car in the 3100 block of Carlin Avenue in Lynwood and ran. Law enforcement officers swarmed the area. Several hours later, just before 10 p.m., Murray was found hiding in some bushes and was apprehended, Wagener said.
Meanwhile, the stolen Mercedes Benz was also found nearby.
Wegener said that ballistic and forensic evidence from the scene of the deputy ambush linked it to the ghost gun which Murray had thrown from the car during the chase.
“It was determined through ballistic comparison, that the pistol recovered was the pistol used to shoot the deputies, additionally that pistol was conclusively linked through forensic testing to suspect Deonte Murray,” Wagener said Wednesday.
Murray’s ghost gun was loaded with eight rounds when it was recovered, Wagener said, and the gun is capable of holding 13. There were five shots fired at the two deputies on the night of the ambush.
Wagener defended the department’s decision not to immediately bring charges against Murray following his capture, even though detectives suspected he may have been responsible for the ambush shooting.
“At the time of the arrest of Deonte Murray on Sept. 15 following the vehicle pursuit…we had no evidence that he was responsible for the assault on our deputies,” Wagener said.
Wagener also added that publicly identifying him as a suspect may have compromised the investigation.
“There was insufficient evidence to support an arrest, much less a criminal filing for the charge of attempted murder on a peace officer and to label him in the media as the person responsible,” Wagener added. “Additionally, bringing the public focus on him at that point in the investigation may have influenced the pending witness interviews.”
Along with the charges in the ambush, Murray has also been charged with one count of attempted murder in connection with the Sept. 1 carjacking, along with second-degree robbery and assault with a semiautomatic firearm. He also faces allegations of association with a criminal street gang, discharging a rifle inflicting great bodily injury and personal use of a rifle.
Murray has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions for sales of narcotics, firearm possession by a felon, burglary and terrorist threats. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged.
Thanks to private donations, the reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the ambush was estimated at over $700,000.