A parolee was convicted Thursday of murdering three people and trying to kill two others in Downey about 7 1/2 years ago while pretending to be interested in buying a Chevrolet Camaro.
Jurors in the trial of Jade Douglas Harris were ordered to return to a Norwalk courtroom next Tuesday for the start of the trial's penalty phase, in which they will be asked to recommend whether the 37-year-old man should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The panel deliberated about four hours before finding Harris guilty of three counts of murder for the Oct. 24, 2012, killings of Irene Cardenas Reyes, 35; Josimar Rojas, 26; and Susana Perez Ruelas, 34.
Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of a burglary, carjacking and kidnapping.
Harris was also convicted of two counts of attempted murder involving two other people who were wounded, along with four counts of kidnapping for carjacking and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
In his closing argument Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors that the evidence showed "beyond all doubt" that Harris "executed" the three victims and tried to kill two others, including Ruelas' 13-year-old son, to silence them as witnesses so he could take the Camaro without paying for it.
Harris had been paroled in July 2012 — just three months shy of the killing — after being convicted in 2005 of robbery and attempted robbery, McKinney said.
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"The plan was to kill everybody," the prosecutor said. "The charade is over. This is not going to be a (car) sale."
The deputy district attorney said Harris was "not leaving any witnesses" and that the victims were "completely innocent in this."
"He's not going back to prison with another robbery," McKinney said, telling jurors that Harris "systematically starts to execute them in front of Susana" at United States Fire Protection, a business in the 8700 block of Cleta Street in Downey. He had gone to the business under the "ruse" of being interested in buying the car, which had been advertised online, according to the prosecutor.
Harris then forced Ruelas to drive with her 13-year-old son to the family's home, where the 2010 Camaro was parked and he allegedly shot and killed her and wounded her son before driving to Los Angeles in the car, the deputy district attorney said.
The prosecutor ended his closing argument by playing a recording of what he called one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in the case — the emotional 911 call from Ruelas' teenage son, who told an emergency dispatcher that his mother had been killed and that he had been shot.
The car was recovered the next day, with DNA matching Harris found on a headrest, according to the prosecutor, who noted that gunshot residue was also discovered on a pair of the defendant's jeans, according to the prosecutor.
One of Harris' attorneys, Thomas Moore, told jurors the defense trusted that jurors would comply with their duty to review all of the evidence and decide whether it supports each of the charges against Harris.
He told jurors they must acquit his client of any charge or allegation on which they find reasonable doubt.
"We trust in your judgment," Moore told jurors.
Harris was arrested a day after the killings and has remained jailed without bail since then.
"Our hearts go out to the victims and their families and now, we're fighting for our client's life," Moore said after the verdict.