Less than a week after the slayings of two Marymount College students during a carjacking, Los Angeles police announced that two South Bay gang members were arrested Wednesday in the case.
Taken into custody in the Friday night slayings--which this week sparked international outrage and Japanese calls for gun control in the United States--were Raymond Oscar Butler, 18, of San Pedro and Alberto V. Reygoza, 20, of Long Beach.
The two had been under round-the-clock surveillance since Monday, when physical evidence was discovered tying them to the deaths, said Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams. It was unclear what that evidence was, however, and police released few details about the arrests.
Takuma Ito, a Japanese citizen, and Go Matsuura, a U.S. citizen who grew up in Japan, were shot to death about 11 p.m. Friday in a carjacking in the parking lot of a Ralphs supermarket in San Pedro.
Williams, in a statement that sought to dispel the Japanese furor over the case, stressed that the motive for the case is being viewed as robbery.
“These young men were not targeted because of their ethnicity or because they were students or because they were visitors,” he said.
Added Williams, “We want to send a message to everyone who lives in Los Angeles and visits Los Angeles locally and abroad: The city of Los Angeles is a wonderful place to live. . . . It is not the most violent city in America. It is not the most violent city in the world.”
Williams said the attack had occurred almost as soon as the victims arrived at the store, when the two “were approached by a male Hispanic who at gunpoint proceeded to commit a robbery.”
During the holdup, Williams said, the two men were shot in the back of the head, and Ito’s white 1994 Honda Civic was stolen by their attackers.
Williams said the case was assigned to the Major Crimes Investigation Section of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, and by the next day, the abandoned car was recovered “in an out-of-the-way location” not far from the scene of the crime. Police said they dusted the car, whose stereo was missing, for fingerprints.
Officers staked out the vehicle for the next 24 hours, he said, but it was impounded when no suspects showed up. By that time, the two victims--who earlier had been declared brain-dead--were taken off life-support at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
The slayings were only two of 25 homicides last weekend in Los Angeles County, but they received wide coverage in Japan and sparked immediate diplomatic reaction. Carjackings occur in the city at the rate of about 300 a month, but in Japan, where gun control is taken very seriously, they were seen as shocking and reinforced a longstanding perception that the United States is a violent, dangerous place.
As public officials ranging from Mayor Richard Riordan to President Clinton rushed to extend condolences to the families of the two young men and dispel public concerns in Japan, detectives had narrowed their search to the two suspects, based on “physical evidence that tied these two people to the crime,” Williams said.
Tuesday, police confiscated a videotape from the Bank of San Pedro, where a security camera at an automated teller machine had been scanning the parking lot when the slayings occurred.
Williams said the quality of the videotape needs to be enhanced before its value can be determined. In any case, he noted, the identities of the suspects were established without the video.
On Wednesday, Williams said, arrest and search warrants were served on a number of addresses in San Pedro and Long Beach, and Butler and Reygoza were taken into custody.
Police, who were in the process of booking the two men late Wednesday night, said they expected each of them to be charged with two counts of murder and two counts of robbery.
Times staff writer Nieson Himmel contributed to this story.
* MURDER CONVICTION: A Tokyo businessman is convicted of killing wife in L.A. B1