California man charged in killings of 3 homeless people in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors charged a California man with four counts of murder Monday in the fatal shootings of three homeless men in Los Angeles last month.

Jerrid Joseph Powell, 33, of Los Angeles, was charged with four counts of murder, one count of robbery, and one count of being a felon with a firearm, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced on Monday. He also faces special circumstances of committing multiple murders.

Powell appeared in court Monday afternoon with his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Carlos Bido, but did not enter a plea. His arraignment was continued to Jan. 8.

"As with each client, our office will pursue a vigorous defense on behalf of Mr. Powell and hold the prosecution to its burden of proof. According to the tenets of our criminal legal system, Mr. Powell remains presumed innocent until proven otherwise," the public defender’s office said in a statement.

If convicted, Powell faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the incredible men and women of law enforcement who worked tirelessly to bring justice to our community and arrest this individual," Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "The swift actions of law enforcement undoubtedly saved lives this week."

Authorities identify shooting victims

Powell was initially arrested last week as a suspect in a deadly shooting during a robbery at a home in the community of San Dimas east of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles resident was then identified as a suspect in the killings of the three homeless men when a firearm found in his car was linked to those shootings, authorities said.

The motive for the killings of the homeless victims was not known, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said during a weekend news conference announcing the arrest.

Jose Bolanos, 37, was found dead with a gunshot wound around 3 a.m. on Nov. 26 in an alley in South Los Angeles, police said. The following day, Mark Diggs, 62, was shot and killed while pushing a shopping cart around 5 a.m. near downtown, according to officials.

The third shooting occurred Nov. 29 at about 2:30 a.m. in the Lincoln Heights area, where the body of a 52-year-old man was found. Police did not immediately identify him pending notification of family.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Simbolon, 42, was shot dead at his home in San Dimas on the evening of Nov. 28. Authorities obtained surveillance images of a suspect vehicle, and the following night a license plate reader in Beverly Hills alerted police who made a traffic stop, resulting in Powell’s arrest.

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Homelessness crisis in California

Los Angeles has by far the largest unsheltered homeless population in the country, with a majority of the county's estimated 75,500 unhoused residents living outdoors, in cars, and other places unfit for human habitation, according to the Los Angeles County's Homeless Services Authority.

Mayor Karen Bass coordinated with the county's Homeless Services Authority with the city's Housing Authority and Housing Department to inform people in nearby areas about the string of chilling attacks.

The homelessness crisis in California – and around the nation – has created a dangerous situation in which thousands of people's physical safety is threatened every day, simply because they cannot afford any housing, said Eric Tars, senior policy director for the National Homelessness Law Center.

On Saturday, Tars partly blamed elected officials and policymakers who have voted against creating more affordable housing for the killings.

"They have it in their power to get people off the streets and out of harm's way, but they’ll misdirect our attention back to the one who pulled the trigger and claim justice is done if they’re caught and convicted," Tars told USA TODAY. "But there’s no justice while our fellow Americans are still at risk, living on the streets."

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Contributing: Eduardo Cuevas, Claire Thornton, and Krystal Nurse, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Los Angeles homeless killings: California man charged with murder