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Judge Releases Man Who Allegedly Shot Burglar

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the objections of prosecutors and police, a Municipal Court judge has released on his own recognizance a murder suspect who was initially held on $1.2 million bail after allegedly shooting a fleeing car burglar, authorities said Friday.

Daniel McDonald, 45, must wear an electronic monitoring device and is forbidden to have weapons in his home or resume his work as an apartment manager, court officials said. He is due back in court on Feb. 2 for a preliminary hearing on murder charges.

“He’s no flight risk whatsoever,” Van Nuys Municipal Court Judge Robert Swayze said in an interview. “If any person is going to make his appearance, it’s this man.”

Swayze acknowledged that releasing a murder suspect on his own recognizance before trial is extremely rare, but said the McDonald case “is an exception to every rule we have, every guideline.”

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Walmark said he objected to the defense request Swayze granted Jan. 12, and insisted that McDonald be kept away from firearms. “It’s a concern of ours, with the crime he committed,” Walmark said.

But Walmark agreed that he had to abide by the judge’s decision, as did Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mike Coffey, who learned of the release from a reporter Friday.

“We didn’t agree with it,” said Coffey, who oversaw the investigation into the Dec. 7 killing. “Not in any homicide case.”

Roberto Lemus, the brother of the man McDonald allegedly killed, also learned of the release from a reporter Friday.

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“What can I say? They must have their reasons. There’s nothing I can say.”

Prosecutors say McDonald--who had reportedly waged a war against car theft on his street--and his son Mark surprised two burglars breaking into a car parked outside the apartment building they manage in the 10600 block of Moorpark Street.

After Mark McDonald fought with one of the burglars, the criminals fled, but Daniel McDonald fired at least seven shots from his 9-millimeter pistol, hitting 23-year-old Henry Lemus in the back and fatally wounding him, police said.

Officers arrested McDonald that morning and arrested the other burglar days later. Detectives said the burglar’s account strengthened their case against McDonald.

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That burglar, Pablo Burgos, 20, pleaded guilty to attempted auto theft and is currently serving a 180-day sentence at the Men’s Central Jail, officials said Friday.

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McDonald was initially held on $1.2 million bail, but that was reduced by Swayze to $500,000 in late December, the judge said. On Jan. 12, McDonald’s attorney, Brian J. Smith, asked Swayze to strike bail entirely and release McDonald pending trial.

With some conditions, Swayze agreed.

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McDonald was freed from jail Tuesday, Smith said. “He’s primarily parked at home.”

The McDonald case was the year’s second incident in which a citizen fatally shot a man committing a street crime. Last January, William Masters of Sun Valley fatally shot an 18-year-old graffiti vandal who he said threatened him with a screwdriver, prompting accusations of unequal justice from some activists when Masters was not charged with murder or manslaughter. He was found guilty of misdemeanors for carrying a loaded pistol and sentenced to three years’ probation, 30 days picking up freeway trash and 10 hours of viewing autopsies or other results of violent crimes.

Swayze said the probation report on McDonald was favorable and that the conditions of his release should keep the apartment manager from getting into further trouble. He said McDonald has a history of strokes and suffers from an acute pancreatic disorder and is not a danger to the community.

There is another reason McDonald, who had been in the Men’s Central Jail since his arrest, should be released, Smith said: “He’s innocent.”

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Smith said McDonald and his son initially told police they thought someone was shooting at them.

The LAPD’s Coffey agreed, but said they changed their story during interrogation.


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