Police nab alleged gang-connected shooter; witnesses get jail time for assault at victim’s memorial
By John Seeley and Gary Walker
Weeks after the fatal Aug. 30 shooting of a Venice street musician outside the Cadillac Hotel, police have arrested an alleged gang member they believe to be the gunman and several witnesses to the shooting have been convicted of assaulting a man who tried to destroy a boardwalk memorial to the victim.
The LAPD-FBI Fugitive Task Force arrested suspected shooter Francisco Cardenaz Guzman, 28, on Oct. 5 in Los Angeles, Lt. John Radtke of the LAPD’s West Homicide Bureau said.
On Oct. 7 Guzman pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Bail was set at $3 million and he remains in custody.
After an Oct. 14 pre-trial hearing at the LAX Courthouse in Westchester, L.A. County Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said Guzman is a member of the Venice 13 street gang.
Guzman was convicted of transporting or selling cocaine in 2008 and sentenced to a year in jail, according to court records.
Known as “Shakespeare” on the boardwalk, 26-year-old Jascent Jamal Warren was shot to death near the intersection of Dudley Avenue and Ocean Front Walk while intervening in a 2 a.m. dispute between a group of homeless men and Cadillac Hotel owner Sris Sinnathamby.
Witnesses have told police that Sinnathamby, 54, ordered the men not to sleep outside the hotel and appeared to have directed the gunman to fire at them, killing Warren and injuring another man. Sinnathamby was arrested the next morning and charged with murder. He was released from jail on $1 million bond after surrendering his Sri Lankan passport.
Both Guzman and Sinnathamby appeared in court this week, but it is not yet clear whether they will be tried together. A discovery hearing was set for Nov. 6.
During Wednesday’s hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Lauren Weis Birnstein denied a motion by Guzman defense attorney Garrett Zelen for a judicial order barring prosecutors or police from releasing evidence to the public — including private security camera footage of the shooting.
McKinney said he believes Zelen wants to suppress the tape because “the video shows that his client recklessly fired into a crowd and killed a man.”
Sinnathamby’s attorney, former high-profile county prosecutor Alan Jackson, did not join Zelen’s motion to suppress the tape.
Outside the courtroom, Jackson told The Argonaut that the surveillance video footage would “absolutely 100% exonerate my client.”
Jackson declined to speak about whether Sinnathamby had employed Guzman to provide security at the hotel, and the LAPD’s Radtke said detectives are still investigating any and all connections between the two men.
Meanwhile, a violent Sept. 13 confrontation outside Warren’s makeshift boardwalk memorial has resulted in arrests and felony convictions for several key witnesses to the murder.
Mays Baskerville, 42, a wheelchair-bound Desert Storm veteran who administered CPR to Warren as he died, and two younger homeless men, Kim Kilpatrick and Derick “Bigs” Noralez, were convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to four years behind bars (all but 30 days of that sentence suspended).
Noralez, who says Warren “died in my arms,” told The Argonaut “a tall, skinny guy” whom none of the them had seen before “rolls up on a bike, spits on [Warren’s] picture, spits toward me and says ‘You guys are next!’” After the stranger, identified by police as 55-year-old Edward Martinez, “messed up the memorial,” Noralez said, “I clotheslined him.”
Noralez said Martinez left the area only to return moments later and provoke another fight, this time including several others and ending with Martinez being hospitalized for head injuries. The weapon involved in the assault charge was the footrest of Baskerville’s wheelchair.
During a discussion on the boardwalk with talk show host Pat Raphael of the show “420 w/ Pat Raphael,” Noralez speculated that the confrontation could have been a setup to discredit witnesses.
California law on the use of criminal records to impeach witnesses gives trial judges wide discretion, said UCLA law professor Paul Bergman.
“Since the two incidents are sort of linked together here, the judge might be more inclined to let the defense bring the matter in [to show that] these are not three neutral people,” Bergman said.