Man charged with murdering brother of L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in 1981

Authorities have arrested and charged a man accused of killing the brother of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas 36 years ago in South L.A., officials said.

Michael Anthony Locklin, 61, was charged last week with the 1981 murder of Michael Thomas, according to a felony complaint filed in court. The complaint alleges Locklin killed Thomas during a robbery.

Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, confirmed the victim was Ridley-Thomas’ brother.

Locklin, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to be arraigned later this month. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without parole or to death, the district attorney’s office said in a statement issued Thursday. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty.

Thomas was killed a decade before his brother was first elected to public office. Ridley-Thomas is one of the area’s most prominent political figures, serving stints on the Los Angeles City Council and in the state Assembly and Senate before being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008.

Ridley-Thomas declined to comment on his brother’s death or the charges.

“Any questions regarding charges filed against Michael Anthony Locklin should be directed to the L.A. County district attorney’s office, as it is their advice that it would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” the supervisor said.

Police say his brother, an insurance adjuster who was active in his church community, was stabbed multiple times.

LAPD Det. Jason Turner, who handled the case, described Thomas as an upstanding citizen who was an innocent victim of violence. Thomas was a pianist for his church choir, the detective said — and “a very good one at that.”

Investigators had identified Locklin as a “person of interest” by 1989 but did not have enough evidence to file charges, said LAPD Capt. Peter Whittingham, who oversees the department’s South Bureau Homicide Division. Locklin was by then serving prison time for sexually assaulting a minor, he said.

The killing was one of many that drew fresh attention recently after Whittingham’s unit doubled the number of detectives working on cold cases, he said. Investigators reexamined blood that had been found at the crime scene, and DNA tests showed that it matched Locklin’s, Whittingham said.

He said Locklin knew the victim from at least one or two prior contacts.

Thomas was one of 82 homicide victims in Los Angeles in August 1981, according to LAPD data. The city saw 877 homicides that year.

Although investigators were overworked at the time, Turner said, they were thorough in their work. That was crucial, he said, when he revisited the case decades later.

”Without doing what they did, I don’t think we would have been able to pick up the case and follow through with it,” he said.

Thomas’ death made little news at the time. The Los Angeles Sentinel published a four-sentence news brief shortly after the killing.

Thomas’ family had found the 37-year-old’s body in his apartment on West Santa Barbara Avenue — now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — on a Sunday afternoon, according to the Aug. 20, 1981, story. The LAPD said then that Thomas had apparently been dead for several days, as his body was partly decomposed.

An LAPD sergeant told the newspaper that Thomas may have been a victim of burglars. The sergeant “refused further comment on the case, saying it would jeopardize the investigation into it,” the paper added.

Prosecutors said Thomas’ body was discovered after he didn’t show up for church and then work.

Locklin has a prior criminal history.

He is described as a “high-risk” sex offender on the state’s Megan’s Law website, which listed several 1987 convictions for rape, sexual penetration of a victim with a foreign object, and attempted sodomy and oral copulation.

Los Angeles County court records showed he was convicted of several felonies, including multiple counts of rape, in the late 1980s. Prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to 57 years in state prison; the records indicate he received a 36-year sentence.

It was not clear how many years Locklin spent behind bars. State prison officials declined Thursday to provide details about his imprisonment.

San Bernardino County court records showed Locklin pleaded no contest to failing to register as a sex offender in 2009.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

5:35 p.m., Aug. 10: This article was updated with a statement from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, more information about Michael Locklin’s criminal background, and comments from LAPD Det. Jason Turner.

10:30 a.m., Aug. 10: This article was updated with information from the district attorney’s office on possible punishment.

This article was originally published Aug. 9 at 8:10 p.m.

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