Hearing Begins for Suspect in ‘86 Molestation-Slaying
More than four years after the murder of 7-year-old Phoebe Ho shocked South Pasadena, prosecutors opened a preliminary hearing Tuesday with a description of the circumstantial evidence they say will link a 51-year-old convicted sex offender to the crime.
Warren James Bland, a gray-haired, bespectacled, Alhambra man, now serving a life sentence for another crime, sat quietly in an orange prison jumpsuit, smiling occasionally as witnesses relived the week of Dec. 11, 1986, when the second-grader disappeared on her way to school.
He has pleaded not guilty to the murder, and his lawyers contend that only circumstantial evidence links him to it. In the time since the slaying, no witnesses to either the abduction or the murder have emerged.
A week after her disappearance, Phoebe’s body was found in a field near the Pomona Freeway in the Riverside County community of Glen Avon. Authorities determined that she had been held prisoner for several days before being raped and strangled.
Court records show that at the time of the incident, Bland was on parole for the molestation of an 11-year-old Torrance boy whom he had tortured with pliers. Bland had an extensive criminal record of child molestation dating to 1960 and had spent all but five of the previous 26 years in prisons and mental institutions.
Witnesses on Tuesday said Bland had been working in the South Pasadena area on the morning the child disappeared, painting the house of former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Pat Haden in nearby San Marino.
Haden’s wife, Cynthia, said Bland was an employee of a San Marino firefighter who ran a contracting business on the side. The mother of four small children, she said she had no idea Bland had a criminal record and found him calm and friendly.
Supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. Creg Datig said “trace,” or scientific, evidence will form the basis of the case. In the hearing, expected to last through the week, witnesses will testify that human hairs, paint chips and semen stains found on the child point to Bland as the killer, he said.
For example, he said, the child’s body was covered with microscopic chips of white paint; Haden testified Tuesday that Bland was painting the inside of her house white.
Court documents also indicate that rust-colored carpet fibers were found on the child. On Tuesday, Bland’s employer and the employer’s daughter testified that Bland had borrowed a van the week the child disappeared; the carpet fibers in the van match those on the child.
The prosecution of the case was delayed by several factors: the scientific tests, Bland’s legal battle on an unrelated San Diego case and his attorney’s illness.
Bland was arrested 2 1/2 months after the girl’s body was found. He was shot while trying to flee police, who had traced him to a job at a restaurant in San Diego. He had dyed his hair and was living under an assumed name.