Out of the hundreds of murders and other violent crimes in Los Angeles this year, state, county and local officials sponsored only 17 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the criminals.
One case that received a reward was the slaying of 14-year-old Angela Migliore in Lancaster, whose body was found strangled near a road in October. Within a month after the crime, state and local governments had offered rewards in the case totaling $60,000.
But no reward was offered in the 1987 slaying of Albert Morales, despite requests to the Los Angeles City Council by his son, Richard White.
Morales, who owned a check-cashing business in Pacoima, was killed in what authorities believe was an attempted robbery. Assailants in two vehicles rammed Morales’ car from the front and behind as he was driving home from work, then shot him to death in front of his wife.
Assigning a reward to a case can pluck it from obscurity. And critics, such as White, say rewards are more likely to be offered for crimes in affluent areas or those involving prominent people.
“An average person like my father, they didn’t care,” he said in a recent interview.
Whether a reward is offered, however, may have no bearing on the outcome of an investigation. Police investigators give them mixed reviews.
Earlier this year, 14 people claimed part of the $25,000 reward offered in the “Night Stalker” case and just last week a Los Angeles city panel recommended that Warren Wilson, a KTLA television reporter, receive a $25,000 reward. The reward was offered in the shooting death of Police Officer Daniel Pratt in 1988. Two suspects, Raylene Brooks and Kirkton Moore, surrendered to authorities through Wilson after the television show “America’s Most Wanted” did a segment on the shooting that named the suspects.
Despite these rare successes, some detectives say they put little faith in rewards, even though the cash inducements sometimes result in telephone calls that bring bits and pieces of potentially useful information. They almost never lead to an arrest.
But they matter to the families of the victims, who see them as a measure of their loved one’s worth in the eyes of society.
White said he repeatedly asked City Councilman Ernani Bernardi to sponsor a reward, but in vain. Though two men were later arrested in connection with Morales’ death, White remains bitter about his treatment by the council. He and his family have concluded that rewards are for the prominent, the politically connected and, in some cases, the young.
In his phone conversations with a Bernardi aide, whose name he could not recall, White said he was told the rewards were only offered in special cases. But when he tried to determine what made a case special he “never got a straight answer.”
A press spokeswoman for Bernardi said she did not recall White’s requests for a reward. Bernardi could not be reached for comment.
Three months after White’s father’s death, millionaire racing promoter Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were shot to death outside their San Gabriel Valley residence. Within two weeks, a $10,000 reward was offered by county supervisors.
“They offered a reward without even giving the police a chance to solve it,” White said.
The responsible officials give various answers for why rewards are offered in some cases and not in others. Some say they offer rewards based on a crime’s uniqueness. Others say money is a last resort to generate leads in difficult cases. The common factor is a perception that the crime is different and should be designated as such in the eye of the public.
“The reward is something that they key into,” Los Angeles Police Detective Mike Coffey said. “Something that makes it different than any other murder that they read about every day.”
Lt. Fred Nixon, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said there is no set procedure for determining when a reward will be requested. Instead, each investigating detective can make the request when he or she feels it is warranted.
“Quite often the investigating detective believes that a reward will perhaps provide the incentive needed for someone to come forward and he or she goes to the City Council and asks if they can help in that way,” Nixon said.
Similarly, the City Council has no standard policy covering the sponsorship of rewards. Council members said they seek city-funded rewards in response to requests from police, the district attorney’s office or in some cases family members. Councilwoman Joy Picus said motions for rewards are almost always passed with no debate or discussion.
But some critics say rewards are not as easily obtained for those who are lesser-known or who live in areas where violent crime is more common.
Cliff McClain, executive director of Taking Our Community Back, a crime-fighting group in South Los Angeles, points to the temporary posting of a reward in the 1988 slaying of Karen Toshima.
A month after the 27-year-old graphic artist was killed while walking in Westwood, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky introduced a motion to offer $25,000 for her killer, and the police tripled patrols in the area.
The motion was withdrawn after community activists and council members argued that the city was placing a higher priority on violent crimes in rich neighborhoods than in poor ones.
“Every life has the same value,” McClain said. “Some people haven’t learned that lesson.”
McClain said the rewards are just one example of unequal handling of crime in different communities.
“There are certain pockets of the city that don’t get the same treatment,” he said. “Whether it’s a reward or increased patrol, the response is not the same.”
Fred Taylor, president of the Pacoima-based community group Focus ’90, said the process of offering rewards should be standardized.
“If the president of Bank of America is murdered and a $25,000 reward is placed for him, the same should happen when a wino is killed on 54th Street and Central Avenue in South-Central Los Angeles,” Taylor said. “It’s still a human being.”
Some in law enforcement say rewards are not always offered in “everyday crimes.”
Rewards are rare “unless it’s a VIP or there’s some notoriety to the case,” said Detective Supervisor Al Ferrand of the Foothill Division. “Joe Blow murdered on the streets. No one knows who killed him. There will not be a reward offered.”
Instead of relying on city-sponsored rewards when the “average person’s child is killed in the ghetto . . . we try to get family members to put up a small reward and set something up that would lead to information,” Ferrand said.
City Councilman Nate Holden, who has offered three rewards this year, believes in their effectiveness. He said several of the rewards offered by the council this year were for crimes in minority communities and he disputed the allegation that a person’s social class determines if a reward will be offered.
“I think they get as much play as other communities,” he said of minority communities.
Holden cited several examples including the 1984 murder of Earnest Pickett, 17, a star student and baseball player shot and killed across the street from Dorsey High School in southwest Los Angeles. Since the killing numerous rewards have been offered by the City Council, including one this year.
Some say the victim’s age plays a large part in determining if a reward will be offered, but youth alone does not guarantee a reward. In July, Brandon Lott, 2, was left paralyzed by gunshots that ripped through his body as he sat on a car in South Los Angeles watching fireworks. Last month, Ashley Johnson, 5, was shot to death while playing at a birthday party in South Los Angeles. Neither incident brought an offer of a reward.
The 17 state, county and city rewards offered this year went for crimes that occurred in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County. The areas represented ranged from San Pedro to Chatsworth to Boyle Heights and also included North Hollywood, Sepulveda and Highland Park.
The crimes included a robbery during a bingo game at a Boyle Heights high school in which an 84-year-old woman was shot and injured and at least two crimes that may be related to gangs--the North Hollywood murder of a 17-year-old high school student from San Diego and the drug-related execution-style murder of four men in a Wilshire District apartment.
Gov. George Deukmejian put up $50,000 in the case of Angela Migliore, the 14-year-old from Lancaster. Sheriff’s investigators requested a reward from Deukmejian because of the unusual circumstances. “We’re very selective in the cases we request rewards,” homicide Capt. Joe Hladky said.
The Lancaster City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors each offered $5,000 in the still-unsolved death of the runaway girl.
The Christian school student was found strangled along a desert road after running away from home.
“It’s one of those cases where you have a totally innocent victim, the kind that shocks the conscience,” Sheriff’s Capt. Gary Vance said.
A spokeswoman said the governor examines reward requests only from law enforcement officials and grants rewards in cases where investigators have no leads.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who brought the resolution for the Migliore reward before the County Board of Supervisors, did so because of the uniqueness of the crime and the victim’s age, a spokeswoman said.
Offering a reward normally begins with a law enforcement official or family member’s asking for sponsorship by a council member or county supervisor.
The council offers up to $25,000. Rewards remain in effect for 60 days unless extended and are not paid until the case has gone to trial and there is a conviction.
Last year, the council offered 10 rewards totaling $165,000. None was claimed. This year, 14 individuals split a $25,000 reward in connection with the “Night Stalker” case of convicted killer Richard Ramirez. Eleven other rewards offered this year have not been claimed.
This year, county supervisors have sponsored three rewards, the governor’s office another three, including the one in the Migliore case.
1990 GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED REWARDS Rewards by the Los Angeles City Council
1. Richard Ramirez, who became known as the Night Stalker for a series of murders and attacks around the state, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989. The City Council decided Feb. 9, 1990, to distribute a reward to people who provided information that resulted in his arrest. It is the only reward paid this year. Amount: $25,000
2. Shellaine Rucker, 25, of San Pedro, shot in the back Feb. 12 while fleeing attackers who confronted her at her home on South Cabrillo Avenue. Amount: $25,000
3. Robert Marks, 59, William Terry, 27, Celedinio Ligtas, 33 and Gene McCullars, 28, were shot and killed execution-style June 12 in a Wilshire District apartment. Amount: $25,000
4. Bandits terrorized a bingo game June 14 at Salesian High School in Boyle Heights wounding three, including an 84-year-old woman. Amount: $25,000
5. Real estate agent Gail Bronston, 49, was stabbed to death Dec. 7, 1989, in her home in the 85000 block of Decelis Place in Sepulveda apparently after surprising burglars. Amount: $25,000
6. Donald McKinsey, 52, was shot to death Aug. 3 in West Los Angeles after he refused to turn over his Rolex watch to would-be robbers. Amount: $25,000
7. Earnest Pickett, 17, star student and baseball player shot and killed Jan. 20, 1984, across the street from Dorsey High School. Amount: $25,000
8. Miguel Diaz, 17, San Diego, beaten and shot to death June 1 as he walked along a North Hollywood Street. Amount: $15,000
9. UCLA astrophysics major Ronald Steven Baker, 21, of Van Nuys, found stabbed to death at the mouth of a railroad tunnel in Chatsworth Park, June 22. Amount: $15,000
10. Kevin Lee Jones, 19, Lakewood, shot June 14 while in his car at a stoplight on Pacific Coast Highway. Amount: $25,000
11. An Oct. 8 arson fire at the old Northeast Police Station in Highland Park caused $100,000 in damage. Amount: $5,000
12. Anita Green, 42, president of Shir Chadash-The New Reform Congregation in Encino was shot to death by a motorcyclist in North Hollywood Oct. 25. Amount: $15,000
Rewards offered by the Los Angeles
County Board of Supervisors
1. More than 600 acres of brush burned in a July 14 arson fire in the Bouquet Canyon area of Santa Clarita. Amount: $25,000
2. An arson fire in Glendale destroyed 46 homes and damaged 20 others June 27. Amount: $25,000
3. Angela Migliore, 14, a Lancaster student found strangled on a roadside Oct. 11 in Lancaster. Amount: $5,000
Rewards offered by Gov. George
1. Irene Franco, 20, of Wilmington and Jesus Martinez, 26, of Garden Grove were abducted at gunpoint Dec. 15, 1989, from a Carson drive-in. They were beaten and Franco was sexually assaulted and then shot and killed. Deukmejian offered the reward Feb. 2. Amount: $50,000
2. Angela Migliore, 14, Lancaster, Christian school student found strangled Oct. 11 on a roadside in Lancaster. Amount: $50,000
3. More than 500 homes damaged or destroyed by a June 27 arson fire in Santa Barbara. And 46 homes destroyed and 20 others damaged in Glendale. Amount: $50,000