A Northridge college student, accused of gunning down a Pacoima pastor because his friend feared that the minister would report a minor traffic accident to police, told detectives that he fired the gun after the pastor laughed and said, "Are you really going to shoot me?" according to testimony Monday in San Fernando Municipal Court.
The student, Dana L. Singer, 18, also told detectives after his arrest that his best friend, Philip J. Dimenno, 19, of Northridge, believed "The only way he could take care of this was to get rid of the guy," prosecutors said.
The case last month provoked outrage among ministers and community activists in the northeast San Fernando Valley because the defendants, who are white, were granted an unusually low bail of $20,000 each in the death of a black man. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office was accused of "lethal racism" in recommending the low bail.
The bail was revoked a day after it was granted, and the district attorney's office changed its policies to require high-level approval of all bail recommendations of less than $250,000 in murder cases.
After a preliminary hearing Tuesday that lasted less than two hours, Singer and Dimenno were ordered to stand trial on charges they murdered Carl White, 54, who was the pastor of the Apostolic Temple Church. The two had gone to White's Chatsworth house on July 28 to demand that he return slips of paper bearing Dimenno's driver's license information, which Dimenno had given the pastor the previous night after the two men's vehicles collided on Winnetka Avenue in Chatsworth.
Dimenno told police that he feared he would be arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant if White reported the accident to police.
Singer said Dimenno asked him to accompany him to the pastor's house because "I was the only person he could call, being his best friend." Singer, who was not with Dimenno when the traffic collision occurred, said he knew something was wrong when Dimenno sent a "911" message to Singer's beeper after the accident.
Dimenno told Singer in a telephone conversation that he had had an accident and that "his life was over," Singer told police.
Singer made the remarks in a written statement to police and during a tape-recorded police interview after his arrest in Reseda on July 31, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth L. Barshop. Singer also told police that he fired the 9mm pistol because he believed White was becoming aggressive during the dispute in the minister's house.
"He said he didn't know what White was going to do--if he was going to grab Mr. Dimenno or not," Los Angeles Police Detective Daniel Carnahan testified during the preliminary hearing for Singer and Dimenno Tuesday.
Singer told police that he fired one round at White, striking the pastor in the back of the head. White's body was not discovered until the following day after members of his congregation became concerned when he failed to appear for services.
Dimenno told police that he returned to White's house after the shooting to retrieve the piece of paper bearing Dimenno's name, address and other information.
Commissioner Gerald T. Richardson on Tuesday ordered Singer and Dimenno held without bail. He ordered the two to be arraigned Sept. 25 in San Fernando Superior Court.
Three days after the arrests, the district attorney's office persuaded a judge to revoke the $20,000 bail after investigators learned that Singer and Dimenno had previously been cited for carrying a concealed weapon in a city park and may have been involved in credit card fraud.
Singer and Dimenno were arrested while trying to use White's credit card to purchase wheels at an Apollo Tire store in Reseda. Store employee Juan Padilla testified Tuesday he called police when the two returned to the store after an earlier attempt to buy wheels was declined by the credit card issuer.
Carnahan testified that a search of Singer's car produced three apparently falsified temporary driver's licenses. The papers may have been used in other credit card frauds, investigators said.