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KVTA Local News

Guilty Verdict In Ventura County "Cold Case" Murder Trial

KVTA News Friday December 19, 2014


A Ventura County jury Friday afternoon found a Bakersfield man guilty of first degree murder in the killing of an Oxnard woman that happened more than 35 years ago.

They also found true special circumstance allegations that 65-year-old John Russell kidnapped and raped 23-year-old Alma Zuniga before using a knife and a gun to stab and shoot her to death.

It was 1979 when Zuniga's body was found in a shallow grave in El Rio.

For more than three decades, the authorities had no idea who raped and killed her.

Then, advances in DNA technology and the creation of a database called CODIS, led to Russell as a possible suspect.

Further investigation led to his arrest, trial, and now conviction.

He will be sentenced on January 21st and faces life in prison without a chance of parole.

Deputies Say Three Arrested In Theft Ring

KVTA News Friday December 19, 2014

(Castillo, Cantero, Oseguera)

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department says they've arrested three Santa Paula residents they believe are responsible for hundreds of vehicle burglaries and vehicle thefts in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties during the past six months.

Detectives allege that that 34-year-old Juan Castillo, 30-year-old Michael Cantero, and 25-year-old Esteban Oseguera were involved in a theft ring.

Detectives say that all three have criminal records for such crimes.

On December 8th around 5 AM a deputy stopped a vehicle in Ventura that had been reported stolen out of Santa Barbara.

They say the driver, Oseguera, was arrested, but the passenger fled.

Deputies say in the vehicle they found a number of items stolen earlier in the morning from vehicles in Camarillo.

Deputies say that on December 17th around 5 AM, Castillo and Cantero were stopped as they left the Spanish Hills area of Camarillo and in the car they found several items, including a handgun, that had been stolen from several unlocked vehicles in that neighborhood.

Investigators say that they also found items stolen from vehicles in Ojai, Ventura, and Los Angeles during previous months.

Cantero and Castillo were arrested and all three are now in jail.

November Jobless Rate Up In Ventura County

KVTA News Friday December 19, 2014

The unemployment rate in Ventura County last month stood at 6.5 percent, which was up from 6.3 percent in October.

However, it was below the 7.3 percent recorded for November 2013.

It was also lower than the statewide average of 7.1 percent but higher than the national average of 5.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Ventura County added 5400 non-farm jobs during the past 12 months, there was no change in the number of farm jobs during that period.

Every other sector showed job growth over the past 12 months except for Manufacturing which lost 300 jobs, Financial Activities which lost 100 jobs, and Other Services which was down by 100 jobs.

Here's a link to today's news release from the California Employment Development Department: 

http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/lfmonth/vent$pds.pdf

Former Oxnard Teacher Sentenced In "Sexting" Case

KVTA News Friday December 19, 2014

A former substitute teacher at Pacifica High School in Oxnard was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty in what the authorities termed a "sexting" case with a former student.

27-year-old Vanessa Tsakrios was arrested in June of 2012 on charges she was having improper communications with a 17-year-old male student at the school.

She was charged with felony "luring" and felony possession of child pornography.

The charges had to do with certain texts and photos she was exchanging via cell phone with the student.

Tsakrios pleaded guilty earlier this year and Thursday she was placed on five years formal probation.

She was also ordered to register as a sex offender and was ordered to spend 120 days in the county jail starting next June.

As part of her probation, she cannot attend any activity or event where there are people under the age of 18 unless there is a responsible adult in attendance.

Jury Deliberations Underway In Ventura County "Cold Case" Killing Trial

KVTA News Friday December 19, 2014

 

**UPDATE---JURY CONVICTED HIM LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON--WE'VE UPDATED THE STORY**

Jury deliberations are underway in the "cold case" murder trial of a Bakersfield man accused of kidnapping, raping, and killing an Oxnard woman more than 35 years ago.

The panel began their deliberations Thursday following closing arguments in the trial of 65-year-old John Russell.

Russell is accused of kidnapping, raping and then killing 23-year-old Alma Zuniga.

Her body was found in 1979 in a shallow grave in El Rio, she had been stabbed and shot to death.

The authorities had no solid leads in the case for more than three decades until advances in DNA technology and a database known as "CODIS" came along.

They led to Russell as a possible suspect and further investigation led to his arrest and this trial.

The jury will resume its deliberations Friday morning.

If convicted, Russell faces life in prison without possibility of parole.

Packer Pleads Guilty, Escapes The Death Penalty

KVTA News Thursday December 18, 2014

Updated--The man charged with killing a Faria Beach couple and their unborn child pleaded guilty Thursday to all charges, and in exchange, the Ventura County DA's Office dropped the death penalty.

Instead, 25-year-old Joshua Packer will be sentenced next year to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of Brock and Davina Husted and their unborn child in May 2009.

The defense had offered for some time to have Packer plead guilty in exchange for the DA taking the death penalty off the table.

Up to now, the DA has refused.

However, the State Supreme Court last week issued a ruling in a long running dispute over the defense effort to remove the prosecutor handling the case that went against the prosecution.

It meant there would be yet another long delay in starting the trial.

Prosecutors decided delaying the trial for up to another year or more would be too much for the victims' families and they decided to accept the defense offer.

Packer pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts of first degree murder and admitted special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, committing murder during a burglary, robbery, and sexual assault.

Packer entered the Husted's beachfront home on the night of May 20, 2009 to rob them and wound up sexually assaulting a pregnant Davina Husted and then stabbing her and her husband Brock to death.

The couple's two other children managed to escape and alert neighbors.

Several months passed with authorities unable to determine who committed the crimes.

Then Packer was arrested in Santa Barbara for a violent convenience store robbery and his DNA was put into a database.

It matched DNA taken at the scene of the Husted slayings.

That and other evidence collected at the murder scene led to Packer's arrest.

Officials Tour Storm-Damaged Camarillo Springs

KVTA News Wednesday December 17, 2014

(Photo by Alex Wilson, KVTA News)

Local, state, and federal officials toured storm-damaged Camarillo Springs Wednesday and talked about plans to protect that community in the future and ways to pay for it.

Included in the tour and discussion were State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, newly elected Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, and Ventura County Congresswoman Julia Brownley.

Some 16 homes were damaged during storms this year when mud and rocks poured down on the neighborhood from the hillside above which was left bare by the 2013 Springs Fire.

Ten of those homes have been red-tagged with debris piled up to their roof-tops in some cases.

The effort now is to clean-up and restore those properties but also construct a system to keep the rocks and mud from inundating that community in the future, both short term and long term.

One plan is to grade the hillside to either catch or channel all that debris in a way which will protect the community.

Both the clean-up and creation of a protection plan will cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars and the question is where will the money come from.

The elected officials indicated they'll look for funding sources, but some of the cost should be born by the homeowners insurance companies.

DA Settles With Edison Over Environmental Lawsuit

KVTA News Wednesday December 17, 2014

The Ventura County District Attorney's Office has filed and settled a lawsuit it brought against Southern California Edison over allegations the power company violated environmental laws.

At issue was Edison's failure to file a required hazardous materials business plan (HMBP) for each of the 47 electrical transformer substations it owns and operates in Ventura County.

The requirement is aimed at making sure that when first responders, like firefighters, respond to any business with potentially hazardous materials, they know in advance what dangers they might be facing.

The Edison facilities use mineral oil which is combustible and must be dealt with in a certain way, whether it's on fire, or spilled.

The DA says Edison actually discovered their own failure to file the reports and reported it to the authorities while also making sure the missing reports were ultimately filed.

As part of the court settlement, Edison is paying about $170,000 in total fines, civil penalties and costs to a number of local enforcement and fire prevention agencies.

They have also agreed to a permanent injunction which requires them to make sure they do not violate the requirements in the future.

Stopping "Doctor Shopping" In Ventura County

KVTA News Wednesday December 17, 2014

A task force of Ventura County law enforcement agencies says it's continuing its effort to stop the illegal sale and use of prescription drugs by contacting every active pharmacy and doctor in the county to get them to use a system which can spot "doctor shopping."

"Doctor shopping" is the way some people dealing in or addicted to prescription drugs obtain them by using several unwitting doctors to write prescriptions for the same drugs for the same person who then goes to different pharmacies to get them filled.

The state has a system called CURES which allows doctors and pharmacists and law enforcement to find out in just minutes the history of controlled substance prescriptions for an individual in a month.

The task force says this year alone, they arrested three individuals who visited a total of 174 doctors in order to illegally get ahold a prescription drugs to sell and use.

Doctors, pharmacists, nurses and the general public are encouraged to email Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit investigators at pharm.tip@ventura.org or call (805) 383-8700 to report any crime related to the illegal use of prescription drugs in Ventura County.

Santa Paula Gang Member Caught After Conviction

KVTA News Wednesday December 17, 2014


Santa Paula police say with the help of the Ventura County Sheriff's Gang Unit, they found and arrested a gang member who had skipped out during his trial on charges related to a gang related gun assault.

They say the jury in the trial of 24-year-old German Renteria of Santa Paula had convicted him of assault with a deadly weapon, a firearm, with a gang enhancement that he used that firearm for the benefit of the gang.

But Renteria wasn't there for the verdict, police say he took off midway through the trial and never came back.

The trial went on without him there, which is legal under certain circumstances, and it continued through the verdict with him not there.

Then, this week, he was located in Camarillo and taken into custody on the bench warrant issued by the judge during the trial.

Renteria is now in jail where he cannot post bail because of the warrant and is due back in court on January 13th when he faces up to 19 years in state prison for the convict for ADW with the gang enhancement.

OPD Investigates 3rd Deadly Shooting In 3 Days

KVTA News Tuesday December 16, 2014

Updated-Oxnard police are investigating that city's third homicide in as many days.
The latest happened Tuesday night shortly after 8 PM when 28-year-old David Lara of Oxnard was gunned down in the 1200 block of Felicia Court.
When police arrived, they found Lara down on the grass suffering from a single gunshot wound.
Emergency medical personnel tried for several minutes to revive him but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
No word yet on suspects or a motive.
This follows two other shootings since Sunday that have left two men dead.
Early Sunday morning, 31-year-old Jose Sainz of Oxnard was gunned down in the street in the 4400 block of S. G Street.
And a 35-year-old Oxnard man was shot while talking with friends in a parking lot in the 700 block of S. Oxnard Boulevard early Monday morning.
The man, whose name has not been released yet, died from his wounds late Monday night at VCMC.
Lara's death last night on Felicia Court is Oxnard’s eleventh homicide of the year. 
The Oxnard Police Department says it has dedicated all of the investigative resources of the Violent Crimes Unit and the Major Crimes Unit into around the clock investigations of these recent incidents. 
The City of Oxnard offers up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspect(s) in homicide cases. 
Investigators are encouraging anyone with information about this incident to contact Detective Gordon Currie at (805) 200-5682.
If you wish to remain anonymous you can call the Violent Crimes Hotline at (805) 982-7070 or Ventura County Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
You can also visit www.venturacountycrimestoppers.org to submit a tip via text or email.

Updated-Oxnard police are investigating that city's third homicide in as many days.

The latest happened Tuesday night shortly after 8 PM when 28-year-old David Lara of Oxnard was gunned down in the 1200 block of Felicia Court.

When police arrived, they found Lara down on the grass suffering from a single gunshot wound.

Emergency medical personnel tried for several minutes to revive him but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

No word yet on suspects or a motive.

This follows two other shootings since Sunday that have left two other men dead.

Early Sunday morning, 31-year-old Jose Sainz of Oxnard was gunned down in the street in the 4400 block of S. G Street.  Police were looking for a suspect and motive in that shooting.

And, a 35-year-old Oxnard man was shot multiple times while talking with friends in a parking lot in the 700 block of S. Oxnard Boulevard early Monday morning.

That man, whose name has not been released yet, died from his wounds late Monday night at VCMC.  Police were looking for a suspect and motive in that killing.

Lara's death last night on Felicia Court is Oxnard’s eleventh homicide of the year. 

The Oxnard Police Department says it has dedicated all of the investigative resources of the Violent Crimes Unit and the Major Crimes Unit into around the clock investigations of these recent incidents. 

The City of Oxnard offers up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspect(s) in homicide cases. 

Investigators are encouraging anyone with information about this incident to contact Detective Gordon Currie at (805) 200-5682.

If you wish to remain anonymous you can call the Violent Crimes Hotline at (805) 982-7070 or Ventura County Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

You can also visit www.venturacountycrimestoppers.org to submit a tip via text or email.

Officials Say Santa Paula Hazmat Clean-up Progressing

KVTA News Tuesday December 16, 2014

(Photo courtesy Ventura County Fire Department)

Officials told Ventura County Supervisors Tuesday that progress is being made at cleaning up that hazardous materials incident near Santa Paula.

The explosion, spill, and fire at Santa Clara Water Water on Mission Rock Road one month ago sent dozens of people to local hospitals, prompted evacuation of a wide area, and closed Highway 126.

The facility has had its permit suspended and there are no active operations there except for the clean-up effort.

Officials told the board that today the site has been neutralized and cleaned up with the exception of the "lake" at the center of the facility where the initial vacuum truck explosion and spill took place in the early morning hours of November 18th (see photo from that day).

They expect to have that "lake" neutralized, solidified, and removed within three weeks.

They say more than 50 samples were sent to off site labs for testing and all have returned with negative results, indicating the tested areas were non-hazardous.

Agricultural officials say the incident did not contaminate the farm operations in the surrounding area and the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner said produce from that area is safe to harvested and consumed.

Officials also say the recent rains have not affected safety at the site and all of the runoff from the rain at the site has been contained on site.

They say the plant will not be allowed to reopen for business until three conditions are met. It must be totally cleaned up and declared safe, the company must prove it can operate the site safely in the future, and the city of Oxnard must agree to accept products from that facility.

The cost of the response to the incident, including the initial public safety response, clean-up, and health care, is estimated to be $1 million to date. That could double if it's found that the two fire engines damaged in the incident must be replaced.

PCH Could Be Closed For Up To A Month

KVTA News Monday December 15, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Caltrans)

Caltrans is now saying the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County that's been closed repeatedly because of storm damage could be closed for up to a month.

The latest closure of PCH between Las Posas Road and Yerba Buena happened after Friday's storm caused up to a dozen new slides, including one which was four feet high and 500 feet long.

On Friday, Caltrans indicated the closure would be through the weekend, then they said through this Friday.

Now they are saying the closure will last three to four weeks.

A contractor not only has to remove tons of mud and rock now covering the highway at several points, but also reposition tons of k-rails that were pushed dozens of feet out of position by the force of the slides coming off the cliffs left bare by the 2013 Springs Fire.

During the closure, all vehicles and bicycles will be banned from the roadway.

The closure will mean more traffic on Highways 101 and 405 and on several canyon roads linking the 101 to PCH beyond the closed area, like Malibu Canyon and Topanga Canyon roads.

Hells Angels Members Arrested In Ojai Valley

KVTA News Monday December 15, 2014

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department says they arrested four members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in the Ojai Valley Sunday afternoon on weapons and narcotics charges.

They say the members were attending a Christmas Toy Drive event at the Deer Lodge in Meiners Oaks.

Deputies say about a dozen of them wearing Hells Angels Motorcycle Club patches were observed riding southbound on Maricopa Highway towards N. Ventura Avenue when traffic violations were observed and they were pulled over in the area of Baldwin Road near Ventura Avenue.

Deputies say during the stop they found two concealed loaded firearms, methamphetamine, and "brass knuckles".

The four who were arrested were from outside Ventura County and were arrested on various charges ranging illegal firearm possession, illegal drug possession and being under the influence of drugs.

Two People Wounded By Gunfire In Oxnard

KVTA News Monday December 15, 2014

Oxnard police are investigating a shooting early Monday morning that left two people wounded, one fighting for his life.

It was reported shortly after 1:30 AM Monday in a parking lot in the 700 block of S. Oxnard Boulevard.

Witnesses told police that someone opened fire critically wounding a 35-year-old Oxnard man and seriously wounding a 35-year-old woman who is from out of state.

The man was rushed to VCMC with multiple life threatening gunshot wounds and was in the ICU in critical condition.

The woman suffered a serious, but not life threatening, wound to her leg as she tried to flee from the shooter.

Police believe the shooter was targeting the man and opened fire as the victims were talking with other people in the parking lot.

The suspect, a male, remains at large and police are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting.

Anyone who witnessed the shooting, or has information about the shooting is encouraged to call Detective Scott Coe at (805) 385-7796. If you wish to remain anonymous you may call the violent crimes hotline at (805) 982-7070 or Ventura County Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

You can also visit http://www.venturacountycrimestoppers.org/contactus.aspx to submit a tip via text or email.