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2 Men Charged in Valley Slayings

Times Staff Writers

Two San Fernando Valley gang members were charged Tuesday in connection with two slayings four days apart last month in which their alleged victims were shot without provocation in cars, Los Angeles police said.

Jose Ledesma, 19, and Mario Catalan, 25, both of Sun Valley, were charged with murder, attempted murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle in the Nov. 23 slaying of Enrique Acosta, 26, in North Hollywood.

Ledesma also is charged with murder in another fatal shooting in North Hollywood on Nov. 27. He is being held without bail and could face the death penalty if found guilty of the special circumstance of committing multiple murders.

Catalan’s bail was set Tuesday at $1.25 million. Both men are being held at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. Their arraignment was postponed until Dec. 17 in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Van Nuys.

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The first slaying took place during the afternoon when three men in a Mustang, including Ledesma and Catalan, allegedly fired seven shots into a sport utility vehicle on Lankershim Boulevard in what police described as a gang-related incident. The shots were fired after one of the men asked Acosta, the driver, where he was from.

The second slaying took place early in the morning. A lone gunman in a hooded sweatshirt, whom police identified as Ledesma, approached Christian Vargas, 18, as he waited for his girlfriend on Lowell Street, police said.

The case fell together quickly with several key breaks, said Det. Mike Coffey of the LAPD North Hollywood Division. Detectives narrowed the list of suspects by matching the Mustang’s paper license plates, which were identified by witnesses, to the Lankershim Boulevard shooting.

Through ballistics testing, they also matched shell casings at both crime scenes and determined they were fired from the same 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun.

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Over the weekend, authorities at the Mexican border responded to an incident of domestic violence involving one of the suspects and his girlfriend. The woman told police that her boyfriend was involved in the Lankershim Boulevard killing.

Authorities said they recovered about $3,200 from Catalan when he was arrested. They allege that he planned to use the money to bribe Mexican jail officials to protect him from U.S. authorities seeking his extradition on the murder charge.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Michael Duffey on Tuesday ordered sheriff’s deputies to turn over the cash to the LAPD as evidence.

“After all the cases in the last two months, it was rewarding to see this come together the way it did,” Coffey said.

There have been 24 killings in North Hollywood so far this year, the majority gang-related. In contrast, detectives investigated 17 killings reported over the same period last year.


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