Lengthy Trial Expected for Parolee Charged in 3 Execution-Style Killings
Teofilo Medina, who had spent most of his adult life behind bars, was off to a fresh start when he was paroled to Riverside County from Arizona State Prison on Aug. 24, 1984.
A sister at Lake Elsinore had invited him to live with her and her husband and two children, and another sister and her husband in Santa Ana gave him a car. He was given a new identity--Frank Rocco Jr.--by parole authorities, and he faithfully stayed in touch with his parole officer for the first two months.
But Ronald P. Kreber of Newport Beach, the court-appointed attorney defending Medina against three murder charges, suggests that the help may not have been enough for someone with the 43-year-old’s long history of violent crime.
“I think he was dropped off in California (by the Arizona authorities) with very little thought as to any work awaiting him or any supervision,” Kreber said.
Medina is accused of an Orange County crime rampage just two months after his prison release that left four clerks of convenience stores or gas stations dead in separate robberies, one woman raped and another woman brutally assaulted.
Chase Led to Arrest
It was an attempted robbery at a fifth convenience store and a chase by two citizens that led to Medina’s eventual arrest.
He is scheduled to appear before Orange County Superior Court Judge James K. Turner today for the start of what promises to be a lengthy trial on three charges of murder.
Jury selection may not begin for a few days because Kreber is finishing up another case.
Once jurors are chosen, they may end up spending more time listening to doctors discuss Medina’s sanity--the suspect has been interviewed by four different psychiatrists--than the facts of the crimes.
Kreber has already informed the court that he wants a hearing before the jurors to determine whether Medina is mentally competent. Kreber has also told the court he may seek medical hearings--to show whether Medina was insane at the time of the crimes in 1984--at either the guilt phase or, if there is one, a penalty phase where jurors must choose between a death verdict, which prosecutors are seeking, and life without parole.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan Brown, Medina’s prosecutor, is abiding by his policy of not discussing pending cases, but when someone asked him a few days ago if his office was seeking a death penalty for Medina, Brown was overheard saying, “You bet.”
The scenario of crimes Medina is accused of includes what one law enforcement official calls “a merciless disregard for human life.” All four clerks who were killed were found lying on their stomachs. All had been shot--execution style--in the back of the head.
“There is no question that all of these young men were attempting to cooperate with whoever was holding a gun on them,” the law enforcement official said. “It cost them their life.”
Medina’s California parole officer, Richard Negrete, said that at first he suffered from a fear that he may have somehow failed Medina, an unskilled drifter who had never held a steady job. But in retrospect, he said, he is convinced he did all he could to help, given the limitations of a parole officer.
Following are Medina’s alleged crimes, as detailed by police and prosecutors:
- On Oct. 13, a customer at Don’s Pawn & Loan in downtown Santa Ana asked owner Don Horlijani to show him a .22-caliber revolver. The customer ran out with it when Horlijani turned his back to get another gun to show him.
Horlijani identifies Medina as the customer, and the stolen .22 revolver was found in Medina’s possession when he was arrested.
- On Oct. 15, a Yorba Linda woman let into her condominium a man who claimed to be a repairman. Once inside, the man tossed her onto the bed and began beating her with his fists and a telephone. A neighbor managed to chase the man away. The woman has since identified Medina as her attacker.
- On Oct. 18, just before midnight, an Arco gas station and convenience store at 2940 N. Bristol St. in Santa Ana was robbed. The attendant, Horatio Ariza, 23, a college student trying to earn enough money to get married, was killed.
- On Oct. 19, just an hour after the Santa Ana killing, an Arco gas station-convenience store at 702 East 6th St. in Corona was robbed. The attendant, Craig Martin, 18, was killed. He had been working two jobs to help pay for treatments for a 6-year-old handicapped brother.
- On Oct. 20, a woman was kidnaped off the street and dragged to an inexpensive motel in Santa Ana where she was raped. She has identified Medina as her attacker.
- On Oct. 23, a Jeep was stolen from a couple from in front of their Santa Ana home. Medina had the Jeep at his sister’s house in Lake Elsinore when arrested.
- On Nov. 4, a daytime robbery occurred at the Garden Grove Drive-In Dairy at 12811 Garden Grove Blvd. The attendant, Douglas Metal, 21, was slain. He had been working at the dairy until he could become more successful as a professional musician.
- On Nov. 5, a daytime robbery occurred at the Gasco Gas Station at 6265 Newhope St. in Santa Ana. The attendant, Victor Rea, 20, was killed. He had told friends he wanted to quit because of a fear of robberies.
- On Nov. 7, a robbery was attempted at the B & M Market at 1237 W. McFadden St. in Santa Ana. In this one, the store owner refused to cooperate.
When a gunman walked through the door, Korean-born owner Peter Yoon was scanning the newspaper searching for reports of any more robberies. Yoon had read about the other four and was convinced he would be next. He had also determined what he would do: He would not cooperate like the others had. All of them had been killed.
Yoon decided it was better to take a chance on being shot while running than being shot in the head at close range while lying on his stomach for the gunman.
“I give him the money, I totally die, execution style,” Yoon said at a preliminary hearing later.
When the man demanded money, Yoon, who said he began trembling from fear, jumped over the counter, got out the front door, and began screaming for help.
Two people who heard Yoon, Cynthia Ann Police and Daniel Barrow, saw the gunman leaving in a dark green Ford Maverick and followed him in their car. They gave chase for an hour through Santa Ana and Garden Grove. At one point the man stopped his car, got out, walked back to the car with the surprised couple and fired two shots at them from five feet away, missing them.
The couple continued the chase after that--"I was mad as hell,” Cynthia Police said later--but finally lost him. The two of them and Yoon got the car’s license plate number. Medina’s Santa Ana sister, Irene McIntosh, who gave him the car, had already had the car registered in Medina’s name.
Police pieced together from statements from Medina’s two sisters what happened after that.
According to the statements, Medina arrived at the McIntosh house shortly after the time the chase ended. He shaved off his mustache and made an excuse to his sister in Lake Elsinore, Sylvia Mayala, why she had to come get him instead of him driving the green Maverick home.
After Mayala arrived, her sister told her she had found a gun in Medina’s shaving kit. Mayala took the gun and put it into her jacket.
When she and her family returned to Lake Elsinore with Medina, the police were waiting for them, their guns drawn. Mayala told them about the gun.
A dark green Ford Maverick similar to Medina’s was seen by witnesses leaving from three of the robberies where clerks were slain. Later, ballistics tests indicated that Medina’s stolen .22 revolver was the weapon used in all four shootings.
Negrete, the parole officer Medina reported to in Riverside, said California agreed to accept Medina from Arizona because he is a native of the Orange County area, and because his two sisters had offered to help him. Negrete was well aware that Medina had an extensive criminal record. (The two states have a cooperative agreement on prisoners, as most states do.)
Medina’s problems with the law began when, at age 18, he was arrested in Santa Ana for possession of a billy club. After that, he was arrested for robbery, assault and statutory rape, but he ended up with only local jail time.
Medina, the oldest of six children, never married, and never held a steady job.
He was sentenced to San Quentin state prison for five years in 1968 for shooting a gun in a crowded El Rio Cafe in Santa Ana. In 1977, he was sentenced to Arizona State Prison in a rape-kidnap case in Flagstaff, Ariz.
He remained in prison there seven years, until he came to Riverside County as Frank Rocco Jr., an alias he still prefers, according to Kreber. (Parolees who were convicted of violent crimes are often given a new identity to protect them from possible retribution from victims or their relatives.)
Medina has not served easy time in prison. His Arizona record shows Medina was disciplined on several occasions for being involved in jail fights.
At Orange County Jail, he is housed in administrative segregation, a section with restricted privileges that is reserved not for inmates facing the most serious charges but for those with reputations for causing trouble in jail.
Stabbed 32 Times
Last December, Medina was stabbed 32 times by another inmate with a makeshift knife in an incident jail officials believe was gang-related.
Asked to describe his client, whom Kreber calls “Junior,” Kreber answers that Medina is “cooperative.”
“It was easier before he was stabbed,” Kreber said. “He’s been in pain since then, and things have been very difficult for him.”
Negrete also used the word “cooperative” to describe Medina’s attitude. Negrete is still bothered about all that has happened since his parolee returned to California.
“When I found out he was charged with such terrible crimes, I was surprised,” Negrete said. “I had had no hint that there were any problems.”
Negrete said that Mayala had provided a good home for Medina and that Medina did not appear to be discouraged by the fact that he was out of work.
“A lot of people are out of work, not just people released from prison,” Negrete said. “That was not a major problem in my mind.”
Charged With Three Murders
Medina is charged with three of the four murders he is accused of. Riverside County has not filed charges in the Corona murder, pending the outcome of the Orange County case. But the Corona murder and the two assaults on women Medina is accused of are expected to be used if the trial goes to a penalty phase.
Lawyers from both sides expect a long, methodical trial.
“The entire case includes more than a hundred witnesses,” Kreber said. “I’d say we’re going to be at it awhile.”