A 35-year-old man went on a crime spree that included seven robberies and burglaries in Orange County -- including a burglary in Cerritos in 2007 -- and more than a year later shot several times at a pursuing police officer from a speeding car in Buena Park, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
But an attorney for Jeremy Robert Bowles said police arrested the wrong man in the Sept. 18, 2008, morning rush-hour chase on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.
Bowles faces multiple felony charges of robbery, burglary, grand theft, attempted murder on a police officer and shooting from a car at a person.
Co-defendant Thomas Cho, who was driving the car, was convicted March 22 of shooting from the vehicle at a police officer, assault with a deadly weapon and reckless evasion, and he was sentenced May 18 to 13 years in prison, according to his attorney Elia Naqvi. The jury acquitted Cho of attempted murder on a police officer, which would have netted the defendant 15 years to life in prison.
"What this case is all about is the defendant, Jeremy Bowles, was not going back into custody," Deputy District Attorney Dan Varon said. "At all costs he was going to avoid it."
Varon said Bowles broke into seven homes between Feb. 4 and Feb. 23, 2007, in Cerritos, Fullerton, Fountain Valley and La Mirada, sometimes when the residents were home, and took belongings including three cars, power tools, a flat-screen TV, a purse with $100 in cash and a gun. One victim was an Orange County Fire Authority firefighter, Varon added.
Police tracked down Bowles and the firefighter's stolen Lexus at a motel Feb. 25, 2007, Varon said. Police recovered much of the stolen property in the motel room, including the firefighter's cell phone, which had a picture of Bowles in it that was apparently taken by the defendant, Varon said.
Bowles was free on bail more than a year later when he stole a car in Buena Park Aug. 28, 2008, according to the prosecutor, who said the defendant's fingerprints were found on the vehicle when it was recovered.
At about 8:30 a.m. Sept. 18, 2008, Buena Park police Officer Pedro Montez pulled over a car with Cho and Bowles inside near the northbound onramp of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at Artesia Boulevard, Varon said.
"Just as (Montez) was getting out of the car he sees the defendant reach out of the car and pull the trigger," Varon said.
Cho, who was driving, sped onto the freeway, and the defendant opened fire again, Varon said.
At speeds exceeding 80 mph, the gunman leaned out of the vehicle again and "squeezes off another three shots," Varon said, adding that no one was hurt in the chase or shooting.
The chase continued on Valley View Avenue into La Mirada, where Bowles hopped out, but Cho stopped a short distance away, Varon said.
Police set up a perimeter in search of the gunman and eventually detained an out-of-breath man named Yojhan Pinzon, but he was later released because he was not believed to be the shooter, Varon said.
Meanwhile, Bowles broke into a home within the police containment area, the prosecutor said. One of the residents, then-17-year-old Victor Ramirez Jr., helped Bowles hide because he was afraid the intruder would hurt his family, Varon said. Ramirez eventually put Bowles in the trunk of his car and drove him outside the police search area, the prosecutor told jurors.
Bowles' attorney, Gassia Apkarian, acknowledged that her client was guilty of the thefts and that he confessed as much to police when he was eventually arrested.
Apkarian said a witness to the freeway chase and shooting told investigators that Bowles looked like the gunman who shot at the officer, "minus the tattoos" on his arms.
Bowles is "sleeved with tattoos," but Pinzon did not have tattoos on his arms, Apkarian said.
According to the defense attorney, the witness told police the passenger was wielding a gun, but not shooting it. Apkarian also noted that a gunpowder residue test for Pinzon was positive.
Montez showed witnesses a photo lineup that included Bowles, but not Pinzon, Apkarian said.
A witness is expected to testify during the trial about seeing someone who looked like Pinzon hiding in bushes following the shooting, Apkarian said.
"We don't know where Pinzon is to this day," Apkarian said.
"My client, by no means, is a great guy you want to hang out with," Apkarian said. "(But) they don't have a shooter. They have the wrong shooter." Varon countered, however, that two years after the chase, Ramirez's mother found a gun in a closet of the home Bowles had been hiding in. He also said police found a baseball cap with Bowles' DNA on it on the freeway.