COMPTON (CNS) - An ex-con arrested earlier this month in connection with a carjacking was charged today with trying to kill two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, who were wounded in an ambush shooting while sitting in their patrol car outside a transit center in Compton.
Deonte Lee Murray, 36, pleaded not guilty to two counts each of attempted murder of a peace officer and possession of a firearm by a felon in connection with the Sept. 12 attack on the deputies, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
He had already been charged Sept. 17 with one felony count each of carjacking, second-degree robbery and assault with a semi-automatic firearm -- along with gang and gun allegations -- involving a Sept. 1 carjacking in Compton, in which he allegedly shot a man in the leg with a high-powered rifle and stole his black Mercedes-Benz. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and has remained behind bars since his Sept. 15 arrest.
Two additional charges stemming from the earlier crime – attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon -- have since been added, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Murray, who is due back in a Compton courtroom Nov. 17, was ordered to remain behind bars. His bail was increased from just over $1 million to $6.15 million as a result of the new charges.
The Compton resident could face a potential life prison term if convicted as charged, District Attorney Jackie Lacey told reporters.
“We've all seen the shocking surveillance video of the shooting and the heroic actions of the wounded female deputy as she drags her partner to safety,'' the county's top prosecutor said. “That video, plus other compelling forensic evidence, are the basis of charges for this prosecution.''
Surveillance video showed the suspect approaching the patrol vehicle from behind, walking up to the passenger side of the SUV, pulling out a handgun and firing through the passenger side window before running away about 7 p.m. The Transit Service Bureau deputies were parked outside the Metro A (Blue Line) Station at Willowbrook Avenue and Palmer Street.
Murray allegedly fled in a black Mercedes-Benz -- the type of vehicle that had been stolen in the carjacking -- and was driving a Toyota Solara when he discarded a pistol while being pursued by sheriff's investigators prior to a standoff in Lynwood three days after the deputies were shot, according to sheriff's homicide Capt. Kent Wegener.
Ballistics testing subsequently determined that the .40-caliber pistol was the same one that had been used to shoot the sheriff's deputies in Compton and it was “conclusively linked through forensic testing'' to Murray, the sheriff's homicide captain said.
The pistol was five rounds short of its full capacity, according to Wegener, who said five rounds had been fired at the deputies.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva had earlier told multiple media outlets that there was no connection between the ambush of the deputies and the carjacking suspect, who was arrested after a chase and standoff that ended in Lynwood.
“We're not going to tell you everything we suspect,'' the sheriff said, in defending his earlier remarks. “We would not be doing our job. We had no evidence at the time to tie him to anything else. Did we have suspicions? Yes ... We have to be very careful and responsible with what we put out there.''
Investigators initially had no evidence that Murray -- who has prior convictions for sales and possession of narcotics, firearm possession by a felon or addict, receiving stolen property, burglary and terrorist threats -- was responsible for the attack on the deputies, according to Wegener.
“We knew that he was a violent offender, was accused of stealing a black Mercedes-Benz and lived in the area. However, there was insufficient evidence to support an arrest, much less a criminal filing for the charge of attempted murder on a peace officer and to label him in the media as the person responsible,'' the sheriff's homicide captain said.
“Additionally, bringing the public focus on him at that point of the investigation may have influenced the pending witness interviews and further compromised the mission of solving the attempted murder of the deputies,'' he said. “As the investigation progressed, we gathered sufficient evidence to substantiate not only the arrest but the filing of criminal charges in this case.''
The sheriff's homicide captain said the black Mercedes-Benz that had been taken when the carjacking victim was shot was located “a short distance'' from the containment scene that had been set up by sheriff's deputies during the standoff.
Investigators have also collected dozens of video clips from throughout the area near where the deputies were shot that “document the suspect's travels prior to the shooting, during the assault and through the time that the Mercedes-Benz was abandoned in the city of Lynwood,'' according to Wegener, who said investigators believe Murray acted alone.
When asked to comment on a motive for the attack on the deputies, Wegener said, “He obviously hates policeman and he wants them dead.''
The sheriff said “we saw the worst of humanity -- a cowardly act where a suspect ambushed and shot and attempted to kill two of our deputies.''
“This cowardly ambush was followed by bystanders celebrating and cheering that the deputies had been shot, and that followed at the hospital -- the sanctity, the quiet sanctity of the hospital -- with protesters cheering and chanting for the deputies to die,'' Villanueva said. “These acts and that day, I will not forget it, and it represents the worst in humanity and it shocked the whole nation. And that evening, I said we will find this man. And I can report today, we have found our suspect.''
He said was heartened by an “outpouring of support'' from across the nation by people from all walks of life, along with both presidential candidates.
“Sometimes from the worst comes the best and this is an example of that,'' the sheriff said. “We have a suspect in custody and justice will be served.''
One of the deputies, a 24-year-old man, was released from the hospital Sept. 16, and the other deputy, a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old boy, was released from the hospital just over a week ago.
Both deputies, who were sworn in 14 months earlier, are recovering at home, Villanueva said. They face reconstructive surgeries and that it's “going to be a lengthy process,'' he said. “But, fortunately, they're doing O.K.''
Photo: Los Angeles Sheriff's Department