A teen-age girl who said she witnessed the shooting of two deaf brothers last week surfaced Sunday, but the 16-year-old suspect remained at large and his father said the boy will not surrender until police guarantee his safety.
The 17-year-old witness, who said she was in the car that carried Joey Bellinger at the time of the shooting in Granada Hills, added in a telephone interview that the suspect acted out of confusion and fear when he shot Cesar Vieira, 30, and his brother Edward, 25. The older man died of chest wounds and the younger man was injured.
The suspect's father, Joe Bellinger, 40, depicted his son, Joey, as a "frightened little boy," who acted in self-defense and is now ready to surrender. Bellinger said he has been in touch with his son, who has been in hiding since the Jan. 28 shooting. But the father contended that he will refuse to cooperate with authorities until they can guarantee that the boy will be tried as a juvenile.
Several people who claimed to have been former neighbors of the Bellinger family in the Fairfax District described the suspect as a troubled boy whose behavior changed after the rape and suffocation murder of his 16-year-old sister three years ago. The neighbors said they formed an alliance to run the family out of the neighborhood.
Los Angeles police officials said Sunday they would make no deals with the elder Bellinger. They said they have assured him that his son would not be harmed if he turned himself in for the fatal shooting of Cesar Vieira, 30, who died of chest wounds, and the wounding of Edward Vieira, 25.
Police also said the decision as to where Joey will be tried and on what charges lie with the court, not with police, or parents--and after the suspect is in custody.
"Usually a person who turns himself in does it unconditionally," said Michelle Rosenblatt, the deputy district attorney handling Bellinger's case.
The witness, who asked that her name not be used, told a reporter that the confrontation that led to the shooting was a chaotic scene, but that "Joey shot at them out of confusion," she said.
Police said Bellinger was riding in a car with four friends returning from a Super Bowl party when they drove up next to the Vieira brothers, who were on a motorcycle at the intersection of Devonshire Street and Balboa Boulevard.
According to the witness, the Vieira brothers were staring at the car. She said Bellinger flashed a peace sign at the two men, who responded with an obscene gesture and spit on the car. Occupants of the car spit back, she said. The two groups pulled into a parking lot, where a confrontation ended in gunfire.
The witness said the Vieira brothers ran toward the car. It was then that Bellinger first fired the gun.
Where the weapon came from, no one is sure. Joe Bellinger said his son may have had the gun with him, because he had unspecified "enemies" in the area.
"Joey threw a warning shot in the air," the girl said. "He tried to warn him. . . . No one knew (the Vieira brothers) were deaf until later on.
"He was scared just as much as everyone else was," she added. "He was freaked out. . . .
"Everybody was freaked out."
Police declined to comment Sunday on the girl's statements.
In an interview, Joe Bellinger said his son acted in self defense when he pulled the trigger that sent a volley of bullets into the two brothers.
"He's not Billy the Kid; not John Dillinger," Bellinger said of his son. "He's a boy."
Attacking the way police were handling the case, Bellinger said: "I won't give them my cooperation. . . . Not under these circumstances. . . .
"They want to crucify an innocent boy, who only fired in self defense and in fear of his life," Bellinger said. "They want me to supply the nails and the cross."
Joe Bellinger said his son told him his hands "were trembly, shaky and he just fired wildly."
After the incident, both the father and the girl said, none of the youths in the car believed the shots had hit either of the brothers.
Interviews with those who know Joey Bellinger revealed a divergence of opinion about the suspect.
To family and friends, he is a friendly boy with a few problems. The murder of his sister three years ago had made him more withdrawn.
Michelle Bellinger was 16 when her body was discovered stuffed into three plastic garbage bags on a hillside in the Silver Lake district, her hands, chest and ankles bound with duct tape. She had been beaten and raped, authorities said.
Joe Bellinger said his son had feared for his own safety since his sister's murder.
But to his former Fairfax neighbors, who refused to be quoted by name, Joey Bellinger is a "walking time bomb; a kid who was waiting to kill or be killed."
Residents said they lived in fear of the teen-ager and his friends who, they say, terrorized the neighborhood with a reign of fear and threats.
Neighbors say they organized last year to push the Bellinger family out.
The family moved from the neighborhood last Thanksgiving.
Joe Bellinger, who now lives in Long Beach, said they left after a bullet from a drive-by shooting blew out the plate glass window of their ground-floor apartment and a fire bombing scorched the lawn.
Both attacks, he said, were aimed at his son.
Neighbors agree that those two incidents helped push the family along.
Joe Bellinger said neighbors overreacted to his son's friends and blamed them for the problems in the neighborhood.