Men are taken into custody after police responded to an illegal gambling operation in Westminster, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
LOS ANGELES—A suspect was behind bars Nov. 3 in connection with the 2001 drive-by Compton killings of a 24-year-old man and his 2-year-old daughter, who investigators said were innocent victims of a gang war.
Jahon Smith, 47, was arrested Oct. 30 in connection with the Aug. 8, 2001, killings of Stephen Murphy and his daughter Kali, who were shot in the 13100 block of Willowbrook Ave. Murphy was shot on the front porch of his grandmother’s house as he tried to carry his daughter to safety when he heard the gunfire erupt, officials said.
According to District Attorney George Gascón, Mr. Smith was charged Nov. 1 with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder. The charges include a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders and an allegation of personal use of a handgun.
His arraignment at the Compton courthouse was postponed until Nov. 29, according to court records.
Mr. Gascón said Mr. Smith faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.
Investigators declined to release extensive details about the evidence that led to Mr. Smith’s arrest. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau Lt. Hugo Reynaga said last month that modern DNA testing was being done on evidence that was collected 22 years ago that they believed would lead investigators to a suspect in the Murphys’ killings.
Officials said earlier that Murphy and his daughter were visiting his grandmother, and Murphy was getting ready to put his daughter in the back seat of his car when the gunfire erupted. Murphy tried to run into the house with his daughter in his arms, but he was shot on the front porch. The girl was struck in the head with a bullet and died at a hospital, sheriff’s officials said.
Mr. Reynaga said during a September news conference to renew public interest in the case that Murphy and his daughter were simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they were an accident to the killers who were out there trying to commit murder.”
Mr. Reynaga reiterated Nov. 3 that the shooting was one in a series that occurred over the course of two nights as the result of an apparently ongoing gang war at the time, and other suspects are still being sought.
“This case is not over by any means,” Mr. Reynaga said. “It continues to be an ongoing investigation until all the suspects involved in murdering Kali, an innocent 2-year-old baby girl, and her young father Stephen are held accountable,” Mr. Reynaga said. “Investigators know there are multiple suspects in this case. To date, investigators have used all resources and available tools in this case for the arrest of Jahon Smith. There is still additional DNA evidence being analyzed in this case and investigators continue to await the results.”
Mr. Reynaga said the crime spree began the previous night, Aug. 7, 2001, when 22-year-old Richard Lawrence was fatally shot in the 2000 block of North Grape Ave. in Compton.
Witnesses provided a basic description of two male suspects in the crime, and sheriff’s officials released artist renderings in hopes of generating tips from the public. Mr. Reynaga said the suspects in that shooting were driving a gray Chevrolet Caprice.
The following night, five separate drive-by shootings occurred in about a five-minute span, in what Mr. Reynaga said were believed to be retaliation for the killing of Lawrence.
“The shootings began in the 13300 block of Largo Ave., where a victim suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds to the head and shoulder,” Mr. Reynaga said. A short time later, a non-injury shooting occurred in the 2300 block of Lucien St.
Murphy and his daughter were killed in the third shooting of the night.
Police tape in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Another shooting occurred a short time later in the 2000 block of West 131st St., where a 15-year-old boy suffered a graze wound to the head, Mr. Reynaga said. After that, a sheriff’s deputy came under fire, but was not struck, in the 1900 block of North Anzac Ave.
Mr. Reynaga said the gold Oldsmobile Cutlass the suspects were driving was later seized by deputies. It was evidence collected from that car that Mr. Reynaga said was undergoing DNA testing.
He urged anyone with information to contact the sheriff’s department.
Stephen Murphy’s mother, Phyllis, spoke during Nov. 3 news conference and thanked investigators for not giving up on the case. She called her son and granddaughter “two innocent victims who were tragically gunned down and taken away from us.”
“We finally feel that justice may not always be swift, but it will be sweet now that the person responsible will be held accountable,” she said. “Stephen was a loving and kind person, a loving father, a dedicated young man who loved his family. ... He always saw the good in everyone. He never, as far as I know, never did anything to hurt anyone in his entire life. Stephen never said one unkind word to me. He was always a loving, a kind son. Just always a loving person.”