Los Angeles

Suspect Released in Rolling Hills Estates Mall Stabbing Death

Prosecutors asked law enforcement to "conduct further investigation"

A woman suspected in a stabbing death in a Rolling Hills Estates mall parking structure was released from jail early Tuesday, pending further investigation in the murder case. 

The District Attorney's Office held off Monday on filing a case against Cherie Townsend, 39, who was arrested in the fatal stabbing of 66-year-old Susan Leeds of Rancho Palos Verdes. Townsend, accompanied by three people, had a blanket wrapped around her head when she was released from jail Tuesday morning. 

She did not respond to a request for comment on the accusations before getting into the back seat of a white sedan. The driver squealed the car's tires as they left the pick-up area in front of the jail.

Townsend was taken into custody early Thursday morning in Victorville and booked on suspicion of murder. Leeds was attacked about 12:15 p.m. May 3 in the parking garage at the Promenade on the Peninsula in the 500 block of Deep Valley Drive.

Police presented their case against Townsend to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, but prosecutors asked law enforcement to "conduct further investigation,'' according to D.A. spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.

Townsend remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail, according to the sheriff's department's website.

The motive for the crime was believed to be robbery, and investigators believe the victim was "randomly chosen'' and was not known by the suspect, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at a news conference Friday at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.

The victim was found inside her white 2016 Mercedes-Benz SUV parked on the first floor of the Promenade's parking garage, with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest.

The suspect's vehicle -- a gold 2008 Chevrolet Malibu -- had been parked on the same floor, the sheriff said, noting then that there was still a "tremendous amount of investigative work'' to be done and asking anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity around the two vehicles that day to contact detectives.

"There were items taken from the scene that led us to believe it was a robbery as well as additional follow-up evidence,'' sheriff's Capt. Chris Bergner told reporters. "The physical evidence is what helped lead us to a suspect, but there's still a lot of physical evidence to process -- both physically process and forensically process.''

A man was initially detained May 4 as a person of interest in the case, but was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in the killing.

"Forensic evidence and video surveillance indicated that (the man) was not involved in this crime,'' the sheriff said Friday. "However, our investigators collected critical evidence at the crime scene that has led us to ... Cherie Townsend.''

The sheriff said investigators had not ruled out the possibility that one or more other suspects may have been involved, but "do not have any information that leads us to any other suspects at this time.''

"The focus of our investigation has absolutely not changed. The investigation has progressed. It is not unusual for prosecutors to request additional information and we are confident this homicide case is moving forward," a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department read.

Anyone with information on the case was urged to call the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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