By Fred Shuster
City News Service
VAN NUYS (CNS) – A man who went on a killing spree in the San Fernando Valley — gunning down his father, brother, a woman he knew and a total stranger on a bus — was sentenced Thursday, Sept. 7, to 127 years to life in state prison after about a dozen family members gave emotional impact statements.
Gerry Dean Zaragoza, 31, who is unemployed and described by family members as violent and having a history of drug use, pleaded guilty last month to four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery.
“The damage done is not only long-lasting, but comes in many forms,” Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson said to the families who gathered in the crowded Van Nuys courtroom. “What happened here was unimaginable. Your loss and your grief came through.”
Zaragoza admitted killing his 56-year-old father, Carlos I. Zaragoza, and his 33-year-old brother, Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, in a Canoga Park apartment, and 45-year-old Susie Lepe at a North Hollywood Shell gas station.
Zaragoza also fatally shot Detwon Harris, 55, of Reseda, who was simply sitting aboard an Orange Line bus in Van Nuys. Zaragoza did not know the man.
The July 25, 2019, shooting spree began at about 1:50 a.m. at an apartment in the 21000 block of Roscoe Boulevard, near DeSoto Avenue, where Zaragoza’s father and brother were killed and his mother wounded in the hand.
At the gas station in North Hollywood, Zaragoza shot and killed Lepe and critically wounded a man working with her at the station. Police said Zaragoza was acquainted with Lepe and family members said he had been harassing her for about a year.
Consuelo Lepe, Susie’s sister, told the court she was glad “we don’t live in a death penalty state” so Zaragoza would have to spend the rest of life in a prison cell. She described her sister as loving her children and having a “beautiful smile.”
Susie was the mother of four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18 at the time of her death.
Also speaking in court Thursday was Lola Jackson, the visually impaired mother of Harris, who said that her son had a 5-year-old son “who has to be brought up without his dad.”
Speaking to Zaragoza, who sat silently, wearing a mask and looking straight ahead, she said, “you took a piece of my life.”
Tange Harris, Detwon’s sister, said of her brother that “the one thing in life he feared was guns. Who gave you [Zaragoza] the right to dismiss my brother from his children’s lives?”
Zaragoza did not speak, but his attorney was given permission to address the gallery over the objections of the prosecutor. As he spoke, a stream of family members walked out in protest.
Rubinson stopped the proceedings and berated the crowd, some of whom commented that it was “disrespectful” to allow the defense attorney to speak to the families of victims.
Rubinson said that “stomping in and out of the courtroom — that’s what I call disrespectful. It’s not going to go like this.”
Rubinson called for a short recess “for everybody to collect themselves.”
After imposing sentence, Rubinson was asked by the defense to include Zaragoza’s jail psychiatric reports in the file sent to the state’s prison system along with the defendant.
However, Rubinson denied the request, saying that Zaragoza’s mental state “at the time of the crimes and today is a matter of dispute.” He said the prison system will conduct its own evaluation.