Carrie Jean Melvin and her boyfriend were walking to a Thai restaurant in their bustling Hollywood neighborhood one July evening last year when they heard footsteps behind them.
When they turned to look, a man in dark, baggy clothing raised a black pistol-grip shotgun. Without a word, he fired one round into her face from about 10 feet away and fled.
On Wednesday, a prosecutor told a downtown Los Angeles jury that the mysterious gunman was Ezeoma Obioha, a security guard at a marijuana dispensary and the owner of a clothing line who owed Melvin money for marketing his business on social media and had developed a romantic interest in her. Days before the killing, Dist. Atty. Michele Hanisee told jurors, Obioha had been notified that Melvin filed a claim with the state Labor Commission after his $1,620 check – for 87 hours of work she did — bounced.
After the attack, detectives interviewed Melvin’s boyfriend, Anyimalik Howell. They asked whether anyone had a beef with Melvin.
The first person who came to Howell’s mind was someone he’d never met, a man he knew as “EZ” who had stiffed her out of wages, Hanisee said. Weeks later, he fingered Obioha from a six-man photographic lineup as the gunman, the prosecutor said.
Howell had a “visceral” reaction when he saw Obioha’s photograph, Hanisee said during opening statements in the murder trial.
But Obioha’s defense attorney said his client had paid Melvin for her work, and he showed the jury a receipt for a $1,740 cash payment.
A father of two who ran track at Beverly Hills High School before serving in the U.S. Army and attending Morehouse College, Obioha, 32, had no motive to kill Melvin, said attorney Jamon Hicks. Obioha was an entrepreneur whose sisters attended Ivy League schools, he said.
Sitting at the defense table wearing a suit, Obioha nodded.
The defense lawyer attacked the credibility of the identification made by the victim’s boyfriend. On the night of the attack, Hicks said, Howell told police he couldn’t see the shooter over the gun barrel. Melvin’s boyfriend had three weeks to find out who “EZ” was and what he looked like before picking him from the lineup, Hicks said.
The prosecutor said there was other evidence that pointed to Obioha. At the scene of the killing, Hanisee said, police recovered an unusual shotgun shell, one that’s hard to find on sale in Los Angeles: a white Rio Royal Grand 12-gauge 00-buck shell with a head stamp that reads “globalshot.com.”
The following morning, a boy playing on the beach in Malibu found a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun under a rock near Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard, a spot in the ocean that Hanisee suggested was a simple journey from the crime scene about 18 miles away.
“If you drive right down Sunset to PCH, that’s where you end up,” she said.
A serial number on the weapon revealed it was registered to Obioha, Hanisee said. Records show he purchased it from a gun shop in Georgia and never reported it stolen, she told jurors.
Lying an arm’s length away from the gun, she said, was a white Rio Royal shot shell that matched the type found at the crime scene. Stamped on the shell was “globalshot.com.”
According to Hanisee, phone records show that Obioha was active on his cellphone the night before and after the shooting. But the night of?
“Nada, nothing. No data usage,” Hanisee said. “Huge anomaly.”
Hicks, who said he plans to call Obioha’s mother as an alibi witness, said the gun found at the beach was not the murder weapon. Tests conducted to link the gun to the shooting came back inconclusive.
“They talk about this gun as if that’s it. Smoking gun,” Hicks said. “By the end of this case, you’ll see this gun is not smoking at all.”
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