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In the summer of 1990, a would-be robber shot and killed a grocer store owner in South Los Angeles, but now police say they think they’ve solved the case, making an arrest this week. Suspect Marcus Perkins allegedly killed store owner Timoteo Pena. Perkins also recently completed a separate jail term for attempted murder and robbery, having spent nearly two decades in prison.
LAPD Detective Tim Marcia, who works with LAPD’s cold case unit, tells KPCC that police now think they have evidence thanks to modern forensic techniques to prove Perkins came into Pena’s grocery store in order to commit a robbery. They believe Perkins approached the register and asked for the store’s money, when Pena pulled his own gun and exchanged shots with Perkins.
Pena was shot numerous times and died while Perkins allegedly fled, Marcia said. Pena’s 9-year-old daughter Esmeralda was hiding behind a refrigerator, the Associated Press reports. Witnesses say they saw Perkins get into a green Toyota Corolla and flee the scene, Marcia said.
Perkins was allegedly driven by his mother to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the chest. Marcia says that Perkins told police that he’d been a robbery victim, and that he was approached by three men who tried to rob him and shot him. Due to the position of the bullet in Perkins’ body, doctors decided to leave the bullet inside, Marcia said.
Officers connected Perkins with the incident at the time after they saw the green Toyota Corolla in the parking lot, but witnesses were unable to make a positive identification, Marcia said. Authorities say new DNA tests found Pena’s blood on clothes taken from Perkins in 1990, according to the AP.
Marcia said that the family is happy now that there’s a suspect facing trial.
“They’re happy in the sense that justice will be brought for their father’s death,” Marcia said. “However, it also brings up the fact that she grew up without a father, and a lot of the kids that Mr. Pena had — I think he had five kids — they all grew up without their father.”
“It’s one of those great stories that turned tragic,” LAPD Detective Tim Marcia tells KPCC. He says Pena came from Mexico and started selling produce on the corner while also working as a security guard, before eventually saving up enough money to purchase a neighborhood grocery store.
“He was living in a predominantly black neighborhood, but the neighbors actually took him in. And because he was so welcoming to the people in the neighborhood, he often gave them credit when they couldn’t afford their groceries. So he really gave back to the community,” Marcia said.
The case began to be re-examined two years ago, according to the AP. Perkins was fingered as a suspect as part of a larger effort to revisit thousands of cold cases that began in 2001, when LAPD established a cold case unit with six detectives, Marcia said. They were tasked with applying new forensic science to old cases that were once thought to be unsolvable, using DNA, fingerprint databases, ballistic databases and more.
That cold case unit started with cases from 1960 and worked through cases up to 1995, Marcia said. They identified approximately 9,000 unsolved cases in the city of L.A. and prioritized cases they thought could be solved with DNA.
Marcia said he thought the unit had been very successful, and that they’ve solved between 115 and 120 cases since the unit was created.
“It is very rewarding. It’s really why I became a police officer,” Marcia said. “We all say that we become police officers to give back to our community, and I think, at least for myself, I’ve found a job that I truly enjoy and that’s everything that I wanted 27 years ago when I first became a police officer.”
Marcia said he was unable to share some details due to the investigation being ongoing and a trial waiting ahead.