Cold case arrest: 9-year-old girl hid while father fatally shot

Francisca Pena stands outside the building on San Pedro Street where her husband was shot and killed in 1990. The suspected gunman was arrested Monday after the LAPD found DNA evidence.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As a 9-year-old girl, Esmeralda Pena hid behind a refrigerator at the family’s small grocery store as a man shot and killed her father during a botched robbery attempt.

Twenty-three years later, the memories of her father’s lifeless body still haunt her.

“I can still see ... my dad lying down on the ground,” said Pena, now 32.

But this week, she said she can at least find some solace that her father’s alleged killer has been arrested and charged in the July 24, 1990, slaying that went unsolved. The arrest was made after the LAPD uncovered new DNA evidence.


Timoteo Pena was shot to death when a man armed with a handgun tried to rob his store. He fired back at least once with a .22-caliber handgun he kept in his pocket, but was fatally wounded.

On the night of the shooting, near the intersection of San Pedro and 65th streets, witnesses saw a small, green, compact vehicle fleeing the scene. But they could not describe the suspect.

Marcus Perkins, long considered a suspect in Pena’s death, checked into Daniel Freeman Hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound shortly after the shooting. Hospital officials contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. Perkins told detectives he drove a green car, but denied involvement.

Without any concrete evidence or a strong witness, Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file murder charges.

Decades passed. Then in 2011 as part of a larger effort to revisit thousands of cold cases, detectives with LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division reviewed the Pena case and sought forensics testing on items of clothing recovered from Perkins in 1990.

The tests turned up Pena’s blood on at least one of the items, physically linking Perkins to the killing, authorities said.


Perkins, a felon twice convicted of robberies similar to the holdup at Pena’s grocery, was arrested Monday, shortly after being paroled from state prison on a 23-year sentence for attempted murder and robbery.

“Finally, justice has been served,” said Biatriz Garcia, another of Pena’s daughters. “For so many years we were questioning ourselves that whoever did it was out there free. Now all of our questions are going to be answered.”

LAPD Robbery-Homicide Det. Tim Marcia credited DNA technology for the arrest.

“The Pena case represents thousands of crimes that occurred prior to law enforcement’s use of DNA technology,” he said. “Families during those years were left without answers and suspects remained free to continue their criminal ways. Now we have the technology to go back and right these wrongs.”


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