L.A. Suspect Charged With Murder
Aug. 13, 1999
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A white supremacist charged with shooting five people at a Jewish community center told investigators he also killed a Filipino-American postal worker because he was not white and worked for the federal government, a prosecutor said Thursday.
The account, based on an alleged confession by Buford O. Furrow Jr., came after Los Angeles County prosecutors charged him with murder and five counts of attempted murder _ all filed as hate crimes.
Federal prosecutors already had charged Furrow in the postman's slaying. The murder charges could bring the death penalty.
After the charges were announced, a shackled and handcuffed Furrow was led into a federal courtroom for arraignment. Looking around at the crowd of mostly reporters, he smiled and said to his public defender, ``They all like me.''
Chief Magistrate Judge Carolyn Turchin refused bail for Furrow, who has a history of mental problems and has had ties to hate groups in the Northwest.
Furrow told investigators he believed the postal employee, Joseph Santos Ileto, 39, was a good ``target of opportunity'' because he was not white and worked for the government, U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday.
Furrow also told investigators that he thought Ileto was Hispanic or Asian.
Ileto was shot ``willfully, deliberately, maliciously and with premeditation,'' Mayorkas said, in a quiet San Fernando Valley community about an hour after five people were wounded at the nearby North Valley Jewish Community Center.
Furrow told investigators he saw Ileto standing in uniform next to his postal van and asked if Ileto would mail a letter for him. When he agreed, Furrow allegedly pulled out a gun and shot him twice. Ileto tried to run, and Furrow said he shot him in the back until Ileto fell to the ground. Furrow allegedly fled in a stolen Toyota.
Ileto was shot nine times in the chest and the back of the head, Mayorkas said.
At the site of the shooting, Ileto's friends left a red balloon that read ``Miss You.'' With it were a small American flag, vases with yellow roses and five candles.
A joint federal-local task force will decide whether Furrow will be tried jointly by state and federal authorities or face separate trials.
Mayorkas said federal investigators are gathering additional evidence in the center shootings. ``We will file federal civil rights charges if the evidence so warrants,'' Mayorkas said.
The district attorney's complaint alleged that Ileto ``was intentionally killed because of his race or nationality.'' That allegation is part of state law dealing with hate crimes.
Furrow was also charged with the attempted murders of Isabelle Shalometh, 68, a receptionist at the center; counselor Mindy Finkelstein, 16; and three young boys, Benjamin Kadish, Joshua Stepakoff and James Zidell. The most seriously wounded, 5-year-old Benjamin, shot twice, was in critical but stable condition Thursday.
Furrow told investigators he had no intention of shooting small children and that they ``got in the way'' as he shot at the teen-ager and Shalometh, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
According to the newspaper, Furrow said he scouted three prominent Jewish institutions _ the Museum of Tolerance, the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism _ while shopping for places to kill Jews.
Furrow found security too tight at the facilities and stumbled upon the Jewish community center in suburban Granada Hills after pulling off a freeway to get gas, a law enforcement source told the Times. It was unclear when Furrow made his scouting trip.
The center remained closed Thursday, guarded by police and security officers. It was expected to reopen Monday.
``We're going to play in the sand, and we're going to paint, and we're going to have fun,'' said Gerry Volmar, a preschool teacher. The center's preschool and day campers have been meeting at a neighboring Episcopal church.
Furrow surrendered Wednesday to the FBI in Las Vegas and was returned to Los Angeles aboard a U.S. Customs helicopter. He waived extradition.
Authorities initially said Furrow fled from Los Angeles to Las Vegas after the shootings in two taxis _ one to the California-Nevada line, the other the rest of the way.
But on Thursday, investigators said he took one taxi from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, spent the night at a hotel before taking another cab to an FBI office and confessing. Furrow said he wanted the attack to be ``a wake-up call to America to kill Jews,'' an FBI source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hovik Garibyan, the 31-year-old taxi driver who drove him from California, said Furrow paid him $800 for the ride. Furrow first asked to go to Los Angeles International Airport, then changed his mind, Garibyan said.
``He just paid me and he fell asleep,'' he said. ``He laid down in the back seat.''
The Times reported Friday that Furrow stayed in a hotel in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles for two nights before the shootings. After allegedly abandoning a carjacked Toyota following the shootings, he got a haircut, bought a new shirt and took a taxi to Hollywood where he searched unsuccessfully for a prostitute, the police source said.
Furrow then had several beers before flagging down Garibyan, the newspaper reported.
Furrow may have visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles two or three months ago, said the director, Rabbi Marvin Hier. Staff members recall a man fitting his description entering the museum with a tour group but later wandering off by himself, ignoring exhibits that focus on the Holocaust.