Judge says 86-year-old murder suspect must remain in custody

Judge says 86-year-old murder suspect must remain in custody
Vyktor Arce sits in the hallway of the apartment where he was nearly shot and killed by Nattie Kennebrew.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

A judge refused to dismiss the case against an 86-year-old murder defendant Wednesday morning and ordered county officials to devise a plan to care for the suspect while protecting public safety.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman Shapiro declined to release Nattie Kennebrew, who is legally blind, in a wheelchair and suffers from severe dementia, despite a probate court ruling that determined he could be released into the guardianship of his son.


Under state law, defendants cannot be held beyond three years at a state mental facility if they are found incompetent to stand trial -- unless it is determined that they remain a threat to society.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Tiffany Forsberg argued that prosecutors had taken “every legal means available” to keep Kennebrew in a state mental facility, but were thwarted by county officials who “each and every time failed to act.”


Kennebrew is charged with killing apartment handyman Gerardo Ramos, 46, by shooting him multiple times with a .357 Magnum on the afternoon of Jan. 28, 2009. After a preliminary hearing, Kennebrew was ordered to stand trial.

But Kennebrew’s attorney successfully argued that Kennebrew was not competent to stand trial and he was later transferred to Patton State Hospital.

Prosecutors tried to keep Kennebrew from being released by asking Los Angeles County to become Kennebrew’s public guardian, a move that would allow him to be held in a state mental facility.

The Public Guardian, under the county’s Department of Mental Health, which manages about 3,000 people, denied prosecutors’ request. The district attorney’s bid to have a probate court judge order public guardianship also failed.


At first, Shapiro said he didn’t have the authority to order Kennebrew to be held under a public guardianship, citing a decision by the probate court that placed guardianship of Kennebrew with his 65-year-old son Andrew.

But after a lunch break, Shapiro returned to the bench and gave county mental health officials 30 days to come up with an alternative.

That came after prosectors directed the judge to a letter written by mental health officials suggesting their policy prevents allocations of resources for dementia patients rather than a straight legal pretext for the decision.

LAPD Robbery-Homicide Det. Barry Telis said that despite Kennebrew’s apparent medical issues, he was still a danger. While at Patton, Forsberg said, Kennebrew attacked another patient.


Apartment manager Vyktor Arce also testified during the hearing, telling the judge that he suffered greatly after Kennebrew attempted to shoot him twice in the chest -- failing only because the weapon didn’t fire.

A military veteran and retired locksmith, Kennebrew had been living at the building for more than 15 years. Police said Kennebrew believed that Ramos and Arce had been scheming to steal his benefits from the Veterans Administration.


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