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3 face murder charges in 1993 Los Angeles apartment fire





3 face murder charges in 1993 Los Angeles apartment fire 3 face murder charges in 1993 Los Angeles apartment fire
  • Two gang members, Ramiro Valerio and Joseph Monge, and a woman, Johanna Lopez, were charged in the fire investigators say was deliberately set in 1993
  • Authorities say the fire was started as revenge on a new apartment manager who was trying to stop drug dealing in the building
  • The fire swept through the building filled with poor immigrants
  • Seven children and three women, two of whom were pregnant, were killed
  • The trio were also charged in the deaths of two late-term fetuses 
  • Each pleaded not guilty; convictions could bring the death penalty 
 Johanna Lopez, 51, pleaded not guilty to charges that could bring the death penalty

Johanna Lopez, 51, pleaded not guilty to charges that could bring the death penalty

Two middle-aged gang members and a woman accused of setting a deadly Los Angeles fire 24 years ago to get even with an apartment manager who tried to shut down drug dealing were charged Tuesday with a dozen counts of murder.

Ramiro Valerio, 43, of Palmdale, Joseph Monge, 41, of Montebello, and Johanna Lopez, 51, each pleaded not guilty to charges that could bring the death penalty, Los Angeles prosecutors said.

The May 3, 1993 fire was set as revenge after a new apartment manager tried to stop rampant drug dealing in the building filled with poor immigrants, authorities said.

The fire blaze killed seven children and three women, including two pregnant women. The trio was charged with two counts of murder for the two late-term fetus deaths, prosecutors said. 

The three were held without bail following their arraignments Tuesday afternoon. It wasn't immediately clear if they had attorneys who could comment on the allegations. 

 Joseph Monge, above, is one of three suspects arrested in a deadly fire that struck an apartment building in the Westlake district of Los Angeles in 1993, taking the lives of 12 people including the deaths of late-term fetusesRamiro Valerio is one of the suspects in the deadly fire  

Joseph Monge, left, and Ramiro Valerio, right, were arrested in connection with the fire that killed seven children and three women, including two pregnant women, in Los Angeles in 1993

 This May 1993 photo provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows investigators at the scene of a deadly fire that struck an apartment building in the Westlake district of Los Angele

This May 1993 photo provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows investigators at the scene of a deadly fire that struck an apartment building in the Westlake district of Los Angele

  Fire set to a mattress in the hallway quickly swept through the building - the case would go unsolved for 24 years

 Fire set to a mattress in the hallway quickly swept through the building - the case would go unsolved for 24 years

Someone set a mattress ablaze in a hallway, causing fire and smoke to spread throughout the building as the manager was moving into a second-floor unit of the three-story, 40-unit building in the Westlake neighborhood.

The residents, nearly all of them from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, tried to escape by jumping from windows and climbing down bed sheets tied to balconies. 

Neighbors formed a human chain to pass down children from upper floors. Other children were dropped from balconies into waiting hands.

Lopez had been arrested in 2011 in connection with the deadly blaze and was awaiting trial, according to court records. Valerio and Monge were arrested by Los Angeles police detectives on February 3.

 People tied bed sheets together to lower children down from windows and others were tossed into waiting arms - still, seven children died

People tied bed sheets together to lower children down from windows and others were tossed into waiting arms - still, seven children died

 Ramiro Valerio, 43, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday

Ramiro Valerio, 43, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday

 Joseph Monge, 41, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court to face charges of murder in a 1993 arson fire that killed 12 people, including late-term fetuses, on February 7

Joseph Monge, 41, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court to face charges of murder in a 1993 arson fire that killed 12 people, including late-term fetuses, on February 7

 Johanna Lopez, 51, center, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court to face charges of murder in a 1993 arson fire that killed 12 people, including late-term fetuses, on February 7

Johanna Lopez, 51, center, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court to face charges of murder in a 1993 arson fire that killed 12 people, including late-term fetuses, on February 7

In 2013, the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division began a fresh examination of the case and began re-contacting witnesses. 

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said residents of the apartment building had initially refused to cooperate with police after the fire, fearing retaliation from gang members, but some have now agreed to testify to testify in the case.

Two men were charged in the 1990s, but the cases were eventually dropped for a lack of evidence.

Prosecutors have not said if they will pursue capital punishment in the case.

 A survivor of the 1993 apartment complex fire is wheeled to an ambulance by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel near downtown Los Angeles

A survivor of the 1993 apartment complex fire is wheeled to an ambulance by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel near downtown Los Angeles

 May Isabela Diego holds her infant son Pedro in the aftermath of the fire in an apartment complex in the Westlake section of Los Angeles in 1993

May Isabela Diego holds her infant son Pedro in the aftermath of the fire in an apartment complex in the Westlake section of Los Angeles in 1993

Police said a fourth person was being sought, but no information about him was released because he fled the country.

Prosecutors said the 10 people killed included: 24-year-old Olga Leon and her three children, ages 4 to 7; 29-year-old Alejandrina Roblero and her three young children who were between 6 and 11; 21-year-old Rosalia Ruiz; and a one-year-old child, Lancy Mateo.

Leon and Ruiz were pregnant when they died. 


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