A father and his daughter were mysteriously gunned down in 2001. Now, answers finally come

Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón comforts family members of Stephen Murphy.
Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón on Friday comforts family members of Stephen Murphy, who along with his 2-year-old daughter, Kali, was gunned down 22 years ago.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Stephen Murphy was buckling his 2-year-old daughter, Kali, into her car seat when he heard gunfire in his Compton neighborhood.

He thought the safest place to take cover was his grandmother’s house, just down the street on Willowbrook Avenue.

So he snatched Kali and ran toward his grandmother’s front door.

But he never made it all the way up the porch.

Tragedy: They are victims of a gang-related gun battle in Willowbrook area. In Atwater Village, three slayings are drug-related, police say.

Aug. 10, 2001

Murphy, 24, and his daughter were killed in a hail of gunfire on Aug. 8, 2001. Their bodies were found on the porch stairs. Their killings long remained a mystery, a footnote of gun violence to everyone except their family and cold case detectives. The pair were casualties of something they didn’t ask to take part in, their relatives said at the time: a gang war.


Now, 22 years later, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has announced an arrest in the double homicide. Jahon Smith was booked on suspicion of two counts of murder. Sheriff’s deputies say they are still searching for three other suspects in the case, and they asked the public to reach out with any information.

“This case is not over by any means. It continues to be an ongoing investigation until all the suspects in [the deaths of] Kali … and her young father, Stephen, are held accountable,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Hugo Reynaga in announcing Smith’s arrest Friday.

Murphy worked at Los Angeles International Airport. He got caught up in gang-related violence, but he was not a member of a gang, Reynaga said.

Undated handout photos show Stephen Murphy and his daughter, Kali.
Undated handout photos from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department show Stephen Murphy and his daughter, Kali.
(Los Angele County Sheriff’s Department)

The deaths of Murphy and his daughter were part of a “series of related shootings” spanning several blocks in Compton and Willowbrook that night. Only one of the four people shot was in a gang, officials said.

Authorities said that a group of gang members from a “Black gang” drove around the neighborhood in two cars — a brown Nissan Sentra and a gold Oldsmobile Cutlass — shooting at random people they believed to be Latino. They were seeking retribution for the killing of a gang member the day before, police said. That homicide is still a cold case.


The men in the two cars killed Murphy and his daughter, Reynaga said, and also shot a 15-year-old Latino boy and fired at a law enforcement officer.

“Whoever did this didn’t care, ‘cause I’m sure they saw his daughter in his arms, and they still did it,” Norman Collier, a cousin of Murphy’s, said at the time of the shooting.

Violence: A firearm control group compared the year 2000 to 1999. Police blame gangs.

Dec. 7, 2001

The pain two decades later is still raw for Murphy’s relatives.

“We finally feel that justice may not always be swift, but it will be sweet,” Murphy’s mother, Phyllis, said as other family members cried behind her at a Friday news conference announcing the arrest. “Stephen was a loving and kind person. A loving father. A dedicated young man who loved his family and all that he encountered. He always saw the good in everyone.”

She said her son ran for his grandmother’s home that night because he thought that’s where he and his child would be safest during the drive-by shooting.

“To him, the safest place was to get [Kali] back into my mother’s house,” the 77-year-old said. “His legs was on the steps and his body on the porch, trying to save his daughter.”

Gunfire from a car sent a pickup truck carrying five teenagers crashing through a wrought-iron gate Wednesday at Compton High School, breaking a student’s leg, police said.

Sept. 6, 2001

Smith was charged with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder, court documents show.


He has a long criminal history in California and Nevada, according to court records.

In Los Angeles, he was sentenced to a year in county jail in 2010 for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The same year that Murphy and his daughter were killed, Smith was convicted of providing a false identity to a peace officer, court records show.

A photo from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department shows Jahon Smith and a second suspect.
A photo from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department shows Jahon Smith and a second suspect wanted in the 2001 shooting death of Stephen Murphy and his 2-year-old daughter, Kali.
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Because the investigation is ongoing, authorities provided little information on what role Smith is accused of playing in the double homicide.

They did not say which car he was in or whether he pulled the trigger in the drive-by shootings.

They also didn’t describe what prompted the arrest.

Prosecutors said that DNA evidence was among the factors that led to the break in the cold case but did not go into detail.

The Sheriff’s Department held a news conference about the investigation in September and asked the public to reach out with information.


“Investigators are again urging for the public’s assistance with information that can lead to the arrest and conviction of additional murder suspects in this case,” Reynaga said.