The service area for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station received reports of six criminal homicides in 2023, according to the data reported on the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s website.
Each death is part of an investigation by the LASD Homicide Bureau, an elite team of the department’s most experienced detectives, based out of Monterey Park.
Such determinations, as 2023 showed, are not always clear cut.
In fact, upon an initial review of the data, one could conclude there were seven criminal homicides, or five, depending on how they’re counted, which is arguable, based on slight distinctions and determinations in the law that criminalists, lawyers, judges and ultimately juries, in some cases, are responsible for reviewing.
For the purposes of this story, The Signal is using the statistics that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is reporting to the FBI, which determine the official crime rates of cities, towns and unincorporated areas based on its definitions, which, as it turns out, can vary ever slightly from the definitions used by the LASD and/or criminal prosecutors, according to a local official.
Sheriff Robert Luna is planning to release the official data for 2023 in the coming days. The final official tally has not yet been released on the department’s Transparency Promise page.
In the data submitted to the FBI, the Sheriff’s Department is counting the death of Willians Lemus Ayala, 12, of Santa Clarita, as a homicide, because that’s what the FBI considers a death as the result of a negligent or accidental gun discharge, according to Capt. Justin Diez of the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
The Sheriff’s Department is not classifying the death as a criminal homicide based on the circumstances.
However, one death that is part of a criminal matter is not being considered a homicide by LASD or the FBI, so it’s not in the official criminal homicide count, but according to records available online, it’s being charged as a second-degree murder.
The L.A. County District Attorney’s office has accused Raul Ramirez of having a previous DUI prior to a second alleged DUI crash that caused the death of Orlando Gomez Salas in November. Accordingly, he has been charged with second-degree murder by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.
Diez said the death, based on the criminal codes the department uses, is classified as a vehicular manslaughter versus a murder. Ramirez is due back in court later this month.
The investigations into such cases can conclude in days and result in charges being presented with 24 to 48 hours in some cases, but many times the work takes months, and even years.
A look back at the SCV’s most serious crimes last year bears this out. Here are the six criminal homicides, as being reported to the FBI:
No. 1: Jan. 8
The first murder of 2023 took place in the unincorporated areas of L.A. County, and detectives believe the suspect was killed in a confrontation with deputies shortly after officials learned of the murder.
At around 1:15 a.m. Jan. 8, SCV Sheriff’s Station deputies found Sheila Ashley murdered at the intersection of Bouquet Canyon Road and Spunky Canyon Road.
Ashley was found stabbed to death. As deputies confronted her boyfriend, Alon Foster, he brandished a knife as they attempted to take him into custody, according to officials with the Homicide Bureau. Foster was shot and killed by deputies.
He was pronounced dead not far from where Ashley was found, about 11.5 miles up the canyon from Bouquet’s intersection with Vasquez Canyon Road, about six hours after deputies’ initial response.
No. 2: March 12
A 23-year-old man later identified as Eduardo Becceril was stabbed to death March 12 outside Dooly’s Liquor and Market on Railroad Avenue in Newhall.
In that case, deputies arrested Steven Castro on suspicion of murder shortly after the incident.
Homicide officials declined to comment on the status of their investigation this week other than to say it was active.
Questions about the case were referred to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.
“The case was dismissed because the prosecution was unable to proceed due to a witness not appearing, and in reviewing the evidence it was determined that the case/charge could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to an email Tuesday from Venusse Dunn, spokeswoman for the DA’s office.
Castro was initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon, according to L.A. County Superior Court records available online, which also indicated the case against Castro was dismissed in November under California Penal Code section 1382. The section mandates a criminal trial start within a certain amount of time after a defendant’s arraignment, normally 60 days for a felony case, unless the defendant waives that right.
Nos. 3 and 4: March 18
Two people were murdered less than a week after the incident at Dooly’s, not far away in a different part of Newhall. Brian Chevez, 25, and Cameron Stokes, 16, were shot and killed during broad daylight near the community pool at The Villages Apartment on March 18.
Two suspects were later charged in the Valle Del Oro murder that detectives believe also is connected to gang activity.
Anthony Ernesto Martinez Ortiz, 18, is facing two counts of murder and had an early disposition hearing last week in his case. He’s due back in court next month. A juvenile, Steven Rosas, was charged as a juvenile in the murder. The DA’s office refused to release the charges facing Rosas but reported he had a Jan. 12 court date at the courthouse for juveniles in Sylmar. The DA’s office would not release any information regarding the outcome of the juvenile’s hearing, citing policy implemented by District Attorney George Gascón.
No. 5: Nov. 6
An official with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said a 12-year-old boy found dead in Sand Canyon on Nov. 6 was believed to have died as the result of an unintentional discharge of a handgun, according to a witness.
Willians Lemus Ayala, 12, of Santa Clarita, was found dead on the side of a remote stretch of Sand Canyon Road, more than a mile south of Placerita Canyon Road.
Lt. Arturo Spencer, who supervised the detectives investigating the case, indicated he was not releasing any details regarding the circumstances, but he did not believe the matter was criminal. Officials presented the circumstances to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office as the negligent discharge of a firearm. There’s been no indication of a criminal filing.
No. 6: Dec. 31
The SCV’s final murder of 2023 happened on the last day of the year in a golf course-adjacent residential neighborhood, where deputies found a man around 4:30 a.m. suffering gunshot wounds that ultimately proved fatal.
Deputies rendered medical assistance to Devin Marshall, 37, at the scene, prior to first responders taking him to the hospital. He ultimately succumbed to his wounds at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.
Detectives briefly detained one person in connection with their investigation, but they declined to share any information about that person’s identity.
Lt. Arturo Spencer of the Homicide Bureau confirmed last week the murder is part of an active investigation, and no one has yet to be arrested.