Suspect Faces Murder Charge in Mother's Slaying at South LA Discount Store

Martha Sanchez was killed nearly two months ago as she finished her shift at a 99 cent store.

A 31-year-old man who was taken into custody during a parole check last month was charged Friday with murder in the Sept. 17 shooting death of a mother of five children who worked at a South LA discount store so she could help pay for her daughter's college education.

Eric Atkinson, an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail identified by authorities as a reputed gang member, was charged late Friday morning with capital murder in the death of 39-year-old Martha Sanchez. Atkinson lived just blocks from the Happy Bargain 99 Cent store at which he allegedly gunned down Sanchez.

A tearful Gabriella Sanchez, 19, spoke at Friday's news conference regarding the arrest of suspect in her mother's slaying.

"The family feels a lot better now that this guy is caught," Sanchez said. "I know I'll never have that relationship again with anybody. She'll tell you where you went wrong, but she'll also try to take your side."

Gabriella had been recently accepted at Fresno State University.

"Now that's put on hold because of this coward," Lt. Jeff Nolte said. "No matter what is said here today, we can't bring Martha back."

Arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. Prosecutors plan to ask he be held without bail.

Atkinson has been in custody since Oct. 9 after a parole search, said Los Angeles Police Department detective Chris Barling. He was on parole for sales of marijuana, Barling said. 

As he was being detained last month on a parole violation, he was taken into custody for making criminal threats involving a neighborhood resident.

Authorities confirmed an arrest in the case Thursday night, adding that the release of surveillance video showing a man leaving the store helped lead to a suspect. Detectives also obtained surveillance video from inside the store that will likely be used in court, but has not been released, Barling said.

"We received some good statements from witnesses who didn't know they were witnesses until they saw the video," said LAPD detective Eric Crosson.

Officers also recovered a handgun that they believe was used "on the day of the crime."

Sanchez was shot and killed on the night of Sept. 17 at the Happy Bargain 99 Cent Store in the 7400 block of South Broadway. A customer found Sanchez and phoned for help. Sanchez later died at a hospital.

Since her death, family members, community leaders and investigators have pleaded with the public for help finding whoever killed the mother of five children, ages 3 to 19.

Gabriella Sanchez said her mother's work ethic is her legacy. She described a woman who came home exhausted, but still wore a smile and encouraged her children to focus on their education to "get a better life."

In the hope of generating leads, detectives released on Oct. 23 a carefully selected portion of surveillance footage showing the suspected gunman leaving the discount store after Sanchez was shot.

A person of interest was in custody when detectives released the surveillance images last month, but they wanted further identification.

Detectives urged the public to contact them with any details, saying the man they were searching for was particularly dangerous.

"If he decided that he needed to kill an unharmed woman by herself in a store, I can't image that there's anybody he wouldn't be willing to hurt," LAPD Detective Eric Crosson said at the time.

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