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Suspect in San Fernando Valley Killing Spree Charged With Capital Murder

A man accused in a 13-hour killing spree pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon to four counts of murder and special circumstances in a possible death penalty case.

In addition to the murder counts, Gerry Dean Zaragoza, 26, was charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery, according to the complaint filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

He was also charged with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making Zaragoza eligible for the death penalty. A decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made later.

Zaragoza is accused of fatally shooting his 56-year-old father, Carlos Ignacio Zaragoza, and his 33-year-old brother, Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, at an apartment in Canoga Park on Thursday.

He also allegedly shot his mother in the hand.

Zaragoza then went to North Hollywood where he is accused of killing a former girlfriend, Azucena Lepe-Ayala, 45, at a gas station near the Burbank Airport.

Relatives said Lepe was a mother of four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18. A man also was wounded in the attack, officials said. He cleaned the gas station at night and did not know the suspect.

Members of the Zaragoza, Lepe and Ayala families were in court on Monday.

At one point before the arraignment, a woman who identified herself as a Zaragoza sister began sobbing uncontrollably. Later she turned to Lepe's widower and his sister and said to them, "I'm so sorry."

Lepe family members have said Zaragoza had stalked Lepe after she rebuffed him and ended a brief relationship.

Outside the courthouse, a Lepe sister said that the stalking abrutply ended about six months ago, and that his sudden and unexpected reappearance made her death even more shocking and difficult to bear.

Zaragoza is also accused of trying to rob a man outside of a bank in Canoga Park. He also allegedly shot to death Detwonia Harris, 55, aboard a bus that had stopped in Van Nuys.

Police say that as Zaragoza was getting off the bus, he turned around and shot Harris although there had been no interaction between them.

Zaragoza was later found and arrested.

The suspect is unemployed and described as being violent and having a history of drug use.

The first shooting occurred at 1:50 a.m. Thursday at an apartment in the 21000 block of Roscoe Boulevard, near DeSoto Avenue, in Canoga Park, police said.

The second shooting occurred at 2:30 a.m. at the Shell station in the 6700 block of Vineland Avenue, near Vanowen Street. Both victims, who worked at the gas station, were taken to a hospital, where Lepe was pronounced dead.

Michael Ramia, who was Carlos I. Zaragoza's boss, told reporters the suspect was "very violent."

"He told me (Gerry Zaragoza) was violent in the house. He was very violent," Ramia told reporters outside the Canoga Park apartment. "And I told Carlos, I said, 'Carlos, get rid of him, you know? Just take him to rehab.'"

About 7:20 a.m. Thursday, an attempted robbery believed to have been committed by Zaragoza occurred outside a bank at Sherman Way and Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Canoga Park, police said. The suspect allegedly pulled a handgun on a man about 40 years old, but he fled when he realized the victim had no money, police said.

At about 1:50 p.m., Harris was fatally shot aboard an Orange Line bus at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, and a suspect generally matching the description of Zaragoza was seen running from the scene.

"He didn't even talk to his last victim," LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes, commander of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "He's getting off the bus and he turns and shoots the person. It doesn't look like there was any interaction between them."

About 2 p.m. Zaragoza was spotted in Canoga Park, about seven miles from the location of the bus shooting. He was taken into custody after "a small use of force" near the intersection of Canoga Avenue and Gault Street, according to Hayes.

Zaragoza is due back in court September 3 to set a date for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for trial. 

City News Service contributed to this report.

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