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O.C. Skinhead Faces Charges in 2nd Shooting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A white skinhead accused of the shooting death of a middle-aged black man last week--a slaying police now say was a probable hate crime--was charged Monday with the attempted murder of two Latino men in a shooting last month, police said.

Police say 19-year-old Jonathan Russell Kennedy, 19, now being held without bail at the Orange County Jail, shot Juan Vergara and Angel Campos Silia, apparently without provocation just after midnight Aug. 3.

No motive has been discovered for that shooting, according to a police report.

Kennedy appeared in court Monday to face first-degree murder charges in the Sept. 15 shooting of 44-year-old Vernon Windell Flournoy and attempted murder charges in connection with the shootings of Vergara and Silia. At the request of his attorney, his arraignment was postponed until Oct. 7.

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A 17-year-old juvenile, the second suspect in Flournoy’s killing, has also been charged with murder.

Flournoy’s killing is the latest in a recent series of attacks against blacks and gays that some activists have contended is part of an escalation of hate crimes in Orange County. The assaults include the beating and stabbing Aug. 5 of Ruben Charles Vaughan III, a 15-year-old black athlete at Santa Margarita High School by a large group of youths in a Trabuco Canyon cul-de-sac, and a Sept. 2 attack on two tourists in Laguna Beach, who said their assailants used an anti-gay slur.

Police said they were investigating the Laguna case as a hate crime. The district attorney’s office declined to file hate crime charges in the Vaughan case, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove that race was a motivating factor in the assault.

At a news conference Monday, Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg said Kennedy, a tattooed man with a shaved head who is believed to have pulled the trigger in both incidents, “has been in the company of, and seen with, individuals who have been identified with white supremacist organizations.”

Kennedy has a criminal record as a juvenile, police said, but they did not offer details. Police believe he came to Orange County from Texas, and that he may be using an alias. The juvenile, who has not been identified, has a prior criminal history which police also declined to detail.

Though neither of the two suspects in the Flournoy shooting has been charged with a hate crime in connection with Flournoy’s slaying, Lowenberg said, “from a layman’s perspective, we probably have a hate crime.”

Lowenberg said that Huntington Beach police continue to investigate the two shootings, and that if evidence warrants, the two men may be charged with hate crimes.

According to state criminal statutes, a hate crime is defined as “the interference through force or threat with an individual’s civil rights” on the basis of such characteristics as race, religion, nationality and ethnic background. To sustain a conviction, prosecutors usually need to prove that a suspect deliberately singled out and attacked the victim because of racial or other characteristics.

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Witnesses told police that the two white men encountered Flournoy last Thursday in the 20300 block of Beach Boulevard at approximately 7:35 p.m. An argument of some sort ensued before Flournoy was shot with a small-caliber handgun.

No one located by police was close enough to hear what the argument was about or whether any racial epithets were used, according to Officer Mike Corcoran.

Flournoy staggered into a nearby McDonald’s restaurant and collapsed. He was later taken to Pacifica Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Funeral arrangements for Flournoy, who lived in the same nearby gated apartment complex as Kennedy, have not been announced.

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The attack on Vergara and Silia, both 22, occurred in the 7600 block of Amberleaf Circle, according to a police report.

Witnesses told police that “two white males in their early 20s approached the victims in an alley and one suspect began shooting for no apparent reason. Five or six shots in rapid succession were heard, according to witnesses,” the report states.

Corcoran said that a .22-caliber handgun was recovered in the area of the apartment complex after the Flournoy shooting. Police believe that the same weapon was used in both shootings.

“It will take ballistic tests to confirm,” Corcoran said.

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Vergara was shot in the stomach and underwent surgery. Silia was shot in the thigh. Both have since been released from the hospital, police said.

Lowenberg said that while investigators were probing Flournoy’s slaying, they “came across some evidence” which led them to charge Kennedy with the earlier shootings. The juvenile has not been charged in connection with that attack.

Rusty Kennedy, chairman of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, who also appeared at Monday’s news conference, said Lowenberg asked him to document the details of the Flournoy shooting as a possible hate crime. Kennedy is not related to the suspect.

“We’re not going to come out with any conclusions,” Kennedy said. But he said the attack fit the general profile of a hate crime.

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Bill Wood, vice-chairman of the human relations commission, acknowledged that police and prosecutors must meet a different standard before filing a criminal hate crime charge, adding that “it’s not as difficult for me to state that this is a hate crime. If they don’t classify this as a hate crime I would be extremely disappointed and concerned.”

Kennedy emphasized that “Huntington Beach is not a center for this type of activity.”

But some experts disagreed, including county civil rights activists and leaders of the African American community.

“Huntington Beach has the largest nexus of hate groups in the county,” said Brian Levin, a Newport Beach attorney who specializes in bias crimes, “with a greater proportion of skinheads groups.”

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Levin, who also serves as legal director of the Center for the Study of Ethnic and Racial Violence in Colorado, said “the city is known nationally for a significant number of these groups.”

At the Huntington Beach City Council meeting, Mayor Linda Moulton Patterson, dedicated the session to Flournoy’s memory and called for a moment of silence.

Patterson said the crime “is not acceptable and will not be tolerated by this community. While there may not be a clear indication at this time that the murder was racially motivated, it is an appropriate time for the City Council of Huntington Beach to state that crimes perpetrated against against any resident or visitor to our community will not be tolerated.

Times correspondent Debra Cano contributed to this report.

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