Three ex-convicts accused of robbing a Moreno Valley jewelry store and shooting a clerk before leading police on a multi-county freeway chase and manhunt at Cal State Fullerton pleaded not guilty Thursday to a string of felony charges.
Jerome Renard Allen Jr., 23, Damine Lavonte Banks, 30, and Traevon Cortez Vidaud, 24 are facing could charges of attempted premeditated murder, robbery and gang activity with multiple sentence-enhancing allegations. The men, all from Los Angeles, face 38 years to life in prison.
A fourth defendant, 26-year-old Roosevelt Andrew Fernandez of Compton, is facing similar charges, to which he pleaded not guilty on Dec. 28. Prosecutors said Fernandez's case will eventually be consolidated with that of his three alleged accomplices.
Allen, Banks and Vidaud appeared in Riverside Superior Court, where Vidaud made an obscene gesture at news cameras, as seen at right. They are being held on bail ranging from $1 million to $2.1 million.
The criminal complaints describe the three men as gang members, referring to them as "various Crips." All four men, including Fernandez, have been convicted of previous felonies, according to court documents.
According to prosecutors, the men – and a fifth, still unnamed suspect who remains at-large – allegedly wore masks and held pistols to rob Empire Jewelry and Loan on Dec. 12.
They allegedly shot a clerk before fleeing west onto the Moreno Valley (60) Freeway, where California Highway Patrol officers began to pursue their car. The high-speed chase passed through Los Angeles and into Orange County, where the getaway car got off the freeway and stopped next to the campus of California State University, Fullerton.
Allen and Banks fled on foot near the campus and were arrested on scene. The university was locked down for several hours while authorities searched unsuccessfully for the other two robbers.
At the same time, Vidaud allegedly carjacked a motorist nearby, leading authorities on a second high-speed chase that ended in Watts. There, he was arrested after running from the still-moving car onto a baseball field at a recreation center.
Allen, Banks and Vidaud are due in court again Jan. 14. Fernandez, at right below, has his next court date is Jan. 10.