California

‘My heart is damaged,’ mom of slain woman says at killer’s sentencing

Dustin James Kinnear
After her son’s arrest last year, Dustin James Kinnear’s mother told The Times that he had spent time in several mental health facilities and had a tendency toward violence.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Yolonde Tassin replays the last day she spent with her daughter. Her 23-year-old had plans to hang out with friends in the evening but wanted her mother’s advice on what to wear. They settled on a pair of blue jeans, matching sneakers and a white shirt Tassin had given her.

As the young woman walked out the front door that summer day last year, Tassin told her that she loved her.

“I love you more, Mommy,” she remembers her daughter saying.

Tassin told a downtown L.A. judge Friday that her life fell apart later that night when a homeless man stabbed her daughter, Christine Calderon, to death along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“My heart is damaged. My baby is gone,” Tassin said during a sentencing hearing for her daughter’s killer.

Calderon had some rough years and had turned to drugs. But their relationship had improved more recently, Tassin said, and Calderon had a new focus: She wanted to become a civil engineer.

Dustin James Kinnear, whom Tassin described as “a vulture” and a “merciless oppressor,” had stolen those dreams, she said. Her life spiraled into deep depression, she said, and now she takes Prozac every day.

Kinnear, 27, tapped his left foot and tensed his jaw as Tassin spoke, but he didn’t turn to look at her. When Tassin told L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry that a message Kinnear had written on Facebook months before the stabbing saying that he wanted to kill somebody was still posted, Kinnear shook his head and mouthed, “No, it’s not.”

Perry sentenced Kinnear to 11 years in prison, the maximum for voluntary manslaughter, and an additional year for his use of a knife in the attack.

On a June evening in 2013, Kinnear and a group of men hung out near the Hollywood & Highland complex with a sign that used a four-letter insult and asked for money. Calderon and her friend stopped to snap pictures of the sign, which they thought was funny. As they started to walk away, Kinnear and the others demanded cash and the two groups began to argue.

During last month’s trial, Tracy Breeding testified that he ran into Kinnear, an acquaintance, at a nearby McDonald’s after the fight.

“He told me, ‘I just stabbed someone,’” Breeding said. “‘Come with me.’”

After her son’s arrest last year, Kinnear’s mother told The Times that he had spent time in several mental health facilities and had a tendency toward violence.

“I always knew I would get a call about him being dead or doing something awful,” said April Pena, who worked then as a police detective in Tucson.

Kinnear pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter last month after jurors sent out a note during deliberations in his trial saying they were deadlocked on a murder charge.

His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lowynn Young, said outside court on Friday that she did not believe the killing amounted to murder.

“This case was very messy — it wasn’t black and white,” she said.

Kinnear had a long rap sheet before the stabbing. In addition to Kinnear, two other men were convicted in the case. Jason Joel Wolstone, 34, pleaded no contest to one count of assault, and Brian Joseph Widdows, 35, pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the fact. Both men were sentenced to two years in state prison.

Calderon’s slaying in the heart of Hollywood’s tourist district spurred Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti, then a councilman representing Hollywood, to ask for increased patrols in the area, including horse-mounted units.

After Friday’s sentencing, Tassin said she planned to file a civil suit in the hopes of taking any money Kinnear earns in prison.

“I don’t care if he gets $2 a week,” she said. “I want him to remember my daughter, my baby.”

Twitter: @marisagerber

Times staff writer Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.