Man sentenced to life in prison for shooting deputies

Wave Wire Services 

COMPTON — An ex-con convicted of carrying out a 2020 crime spree that included the ambush-style shooting that left two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies wounded in their patrol vehicle outside a local transit center was sentenced Nov. 1 to 166 years and eight months to life in prison.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Connie R. Quinones imposed the maximum sentence on Deonte Lee Murray, citing the “heinous and callous nature of the crimes” committed by the defendant during his September 2020 crime spree.

“You creeped up on them,” the judge told the defendant about the Sept. 12, 2020, attack on Deputies Claudia Apolinar and Emmanuel Perez-Perez outside a Compton transit center. “It’s all caught on video. … Luckily they both survived.”

Apolinar — who said she missed two years of work as a result of her injuries — told the judge that “a coward woke up that day with the intention of murdering deputies.”

“Evil found us that day. … We were pushed to our limits,” she said, calling Murray’s surprise attack a “cowardly act.”

“He failed and we survived,” she said. “My life will never be the same.”

Perez-Perez told the judge that it has been “a long three years recovering” and said the “mental injuries are going to last forever.” He said he sees the scar on his forehead that serves as a “reminder of almost dying,” adding that he is happy that justice is being served. 

Murray, 39, was convicted Sept. 28 of two counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, along with one count each of attempted murder, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, carjacking and robbery, along with four counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Sheriff Robert Luna sat in the Compton courtroom in support of the two wounded deputies during the sentencing.

“I came as a sign of support representing not only the men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but I believe our community, to personally thank these deputies not only for their service, but everything they’ve gone through and the family members that were here,” the sheriff told reporters outside the courthouse. “Thank God these two deputies survived.”

He said he was “very satisfied” with the judge’s decision to impose the maximum term on Murray for what he called his “violent behavior.”

“But to say I’m happy, I can’t see anybody being happy. What a tragedy,” the sheriff said.

“I have two deputies who I consider heroes that will be impacted not only physically but mentally for the rest of their life. They were shaken up today because this brought back that horrific night for them. … These two deputies were sitting in their car, radio car, in uniform, protecting our community and this individual decided that this was the night he was going to try and kill two deputies. … It was a straight-up ambush.”

The judge rejected the defense’s request to strike Murray’s 2015 conviction for criminal threats, while acknowledging that a packet of information about the defendant’s childhood is “heartbreaking” and explains the hardship and dysfunction that he faced.

“Our system has failed him many times,” defense attorney Kate Hardie said of her client.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Lonseth called Murray’s crimes “atrocious,” saying that they caused “tremendous damage” and that he “deserves the maximum sentence.”

During Murray’s trial, the prosecutor told jurors that Murray shot four people and tried to kill three of them, including the two sheriff’s deputies whom he allegedly tried to ambush in what the prosecutor said was “no impulse.”

Murray allegedly said after the shooting that he couldn’t believe the deputies hadn’t died, the deputy district attorney said.

The prosecutor told the panel that Murray “did everything he could to end the lives of Claudia Apolinar and Emmanuel Perez-Perez,” saying “this wasn’t some impulsive thing.”

“They’re alive because of, frankly, a miracle,” Lonseth said, citing the “heroic actions” of Apolinar in trying to aid her partner despite being wounded herself in the jaw and arms.

The prosecutor had told jurors during his opening statement in August that Murray “lost it” and “sought to take out revenge” after sheriff’s deputies shot and killed his best friend, Sam Herrera, while serving a search warrant in Compton on Sept. 10, 2020, two days before Apolinar and Perez-Perez were ambushed.

Murray allegedly “unloaded over and over again” by firing upon a man he mistakenly believed was a detective in an unmarked car near the Compton courthouse on Sept. 10, 2020, then driving away in a black Mercedes-Benz that had been carjacked nine days earlier from a man who was shot in the leg with a rifle, Lonseth told the panel.

The defendant — who allegedly abandoned the Mercedes-Benz near an elementary school — was arrested Sept. 15, 2020, after leading police on a chase in which he tossed a “ghost gun” from the Toyota Solara he was driving and then running into a neighborhood, where he was subsequently found hiding under a chicken coop in a resident’s backyard, the prosecutor said.

Ballistics testing subsequently determined that the .40-caliber weapon had been used to shoot the sheriff’s deputies, authorities said.

Murray’s attorney told jurors her client was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and grief-stricken over his best friend’s shooting death by other sheriff’s deputies two days earlier.

The defense lawyer told jurors the “closest person” to Murray had been killed, calling the days between Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 of that year “the worst time in Mr. Murray’s life.”

Hardie told jurors her client’s actions were “impulsive” and fueled by alcohol, methamphetamine and grief over his best friend’s death.

She told the panel they had heard about evidence of Murray’s intoxication from six separate sources, saying that and his mental state negate both premeditation and intent to kill involving the attempted murder charges.

Hardie accused the prosecutor of trying to sway the jurors’ emotions by arguing that it would have been a murder case if it wasn’t for Apolinar’s actions.

“You can, in your outside lives, think these deputies are heroes,” Murray’s attorney said, while urging jurors to consider only the  evidence and jury instructions during the trial.

The defense lawyer conceded an assault charge involving the first shooting on Sept. 1, 2020, along with a series of counts against Murray alleging that he was a felon in possession of a firearm. She described her client as having been convicted of “small stuff.”

But she told jurors the defense was contesting other charges against him, including the attempted murder counts involving the deputies and the carjacking and robbery counts involving the first shooting victim named in the assault count.

The defense lawyer told jurors the defense was “not asking you … to let him go,” but was asking them to “follow the law.”

During the trial, jurors heard from the two wounded deputies along with Murray, who testified in his own defense.

Wearing a sheriff’s uniform while on the stand, Apolinar told jurors that she heard gunshots and that her vision went blank for a few seconds after she and her partner were shot.

She testified that she didn’t immediately know where she had been shot but felt a “warm sensation in my mouth” and tried to speak over a police radio to report what had happened to her and her partner.

She told jurors that she felt her tongue flapping around in her mouth and that the dispatcher was having difficulty understanding her plea for assistance.

“I knew I was hit in the mouth,” Apolinar, the mother of a then 6-year-old child, told jurors.

She said she subsequently tried to help her partner, who was struggling to put a tourniquet on after she saw his face and right arm covered in blood.

I didn’t know where the suspect was at, if he was going to come back,” the deputy told jurors, saying later she did not see who he was and that neither she nor her partner fired any shots in response.

Surveillance video shows the gunman walking up to the passenger side of the sheriff’s vehicle, firing and then quickly leaving, and Apolinar subsequently coming to her partner’s aid followed by the two — both of their uniforms stained with blood — hurrying to a waiting patrol vehicle that rushed them to a hospital.

She said she later learned that one round struck her in the jaw and “nearly cut my tongue off” and that she also suffered gunshot wounds to both of her arms, which were broken in the shooting. The deputy said she still has scars on both of her arms and her face from the attack, and that she returned to work at the sheriff’s department last September.

Apolinar was praised for helping her wounded partner despite her own injuries, with then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey calling her actions “heroic.” The deputy was subsequently honored with the 2021 American Legion, Department of California’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for Valor award.

Apolinar’s partner was shot in the forehead and an arm.