Press-Telegram – 8/1/23
Deputy Claudia Apolinar sat in the driver’s seat of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department SUV while on patrol at the Metro Blue (A) Line’s Compton Station, looking over a piece of paper and letting her partner know it was about time to move to another nearby station.
Then she heard the gunshots.
“My vision went black for a couple seconds,” Apolinar testified Tuesday in Compton Superior Court. “I was thinking ‘Oh (expletive), we just got shot.’ What they tell you about in the academy and what you see on TV is happening to us.”
Apolinar was the first witness called to testify as trial began in the case against Deonte Lee Murray, the man accused of shooting her and her partner on Sept. 12, 2020.
Murray, 39, faces four counts of attempted murder, four counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count each of carjacking, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon stemming from a trio of Compton shootings that spanned nearly two weeks.
He was arrested three days after the shooting that wounded the deputies, following a pursuit and a nine-hour search by police, who ultimately found him underneath a chicken coop in a backyard, prosecutor Stephen Lonseth said during his opening statement.
Defense attorney Kate Hardie deferred her opening statement to later in the trial.
Apolinar testified that one of the shots entered behind her teeth on the right side of her face, nearly severed her tongue and shattered the left side of her jaw. She also suffered gunshot wounds to both forearms, breaking both ulna bones.
Lonseth played surveillance video from the Metro station, along with radio calls made by the deputies for help. In the radio calls, the dispatcher has a hard time understanding Apolinar, but her partner, Deputy Emmanuel Perez-Perez, eventually takes her radio to signal for help.
The video shows a man dressed all in black, whom Lonseth identified as Murray, walk up from the rear of the deputies’ SUV, then make a sudden left turn toward the passenger door, pull a gun and shoot. The man runs northbound and out of sight as Perez-Perez exits the passenger door first, then Apolinar out the driver’s door.
“I didn’t know where I was shot. I felt a warm sensation in my mouth and my arms,” Apolinar testified. “It was not until I was talking over the radio I knew I was shot in the face.
“I was not able to get clear words and I felt my tongue flopping around in my mouth,” she continued.
Apolinar said she noticed Perez-Perez trying to apply the tourniquet, but was struggling, so she helped him. On surveillance video, Perez-Perez appeared to be bleeding from the forehead and arms, while the front of Apolinar’s uniform was covered in blood, along with her forearms.
“There was so much going on,” she said. “I was trying to put on the tourniquet. I didn’t know where the suspect was or if he was going to come back.”
Apolinar and Perez-Perez were 14 months out from the academy when the shooting occurred. She and Perez-Perez had been partnered up for a little more than a week.
After the shooting, her mouth was wired shut for three months and both arms were in casts for about the same amount of time, she testified. Her tongue had to be stitched back together. She went through physical therapy and had recently finished a treatment for her jaw.
Apolinar returned to work in September and was assigned to a different department, she said..
During cross-examination by Hardie, Apolinar said she didn’t see who shot her, nor did she notice anyone running away after the shooting.
In his opening statement, Lonseth laid out the timeline for jurors and said Murray was looking to take out his revenge on law enforcement after they shot and killed his best friend, Samuel Herrera, on Sept. 10, 2020, while serving a search warrant.
Lonseth said Murray was also accused in a carjacking nearly two weeks prior in which a man Lonseth identified as Murray was seen on surveillance video pointing a rifle at a man, then shooting him in the leg before stealing his black Mercedes Benz sedan.
“You’re going to hear a lot about that car in this trial,” Lonseth said.
Murray went by the Compton Courthouse hours after Herrera was killed to “take out his revenge” and “unloaded the rifle” into an unmarked silver SUV he thought was occupied by a detective, but was actually a civilian, Lonseth said. Witnesses will testify to seeing the shooter driving a black Mercedes Benz and using a rifle, he said. The civilian, a man seated in the driver’s seat, survived his wounds.
Two days later, Murray was accused of shooting the deputies near the Metro Compton Station just before 7 p.m. Investigators pieced together surveillance footage from nearby locations to show a black Mercedes Benz driving in the area before the ambush, Lonseth said.
After the shooting, Murray ran back to the car and fled northbound, ditching the car in Lynwood near Lindbergh Elementary School, Lonseth said. Surveillance cameras captured a man that looked similar to the man seen on the Compton Station cameras walking away from the car in the neighborhood.
Murray was arrested three days later after fleeing from police in his blue Toyota Solara sedan, Lonseth said. During the pursuit, Murray was accused of tossing a handgun, which was later found by deputies. A ballistics expert would testify that tests confirmed that was the gun used to shoot the deputies, the prosecutor said.
Deputies found the Mercedes Benz the same day, after a school employee called because it had sat near the campus for three days.
“The only key to that Mercedes is in a backpack in his car,” Lonseth said, adding that .40-caliber casings were found in both the Solara and the Mercedes Benz. Investigators also found .223-caliber rifle casings in the Mercedes Benz and Lonseth said ballistics testing showed those casings to be the same as the ones found at the scenes of the carjacking and the courthouse shooting.
Murray would allegedly tell deputies in an interview that he pointed a rifle at a man on Sept. 1, 2020, but did not fire the weapon and the man later let him borrow the black Mercedes Benz. He would also admit to tossing the handgun during the pursuit.
In a recorded bus conversation with another inmate in November 2020, played during the opening statement, a man Lonseth claimed was Murray could be heard admitting to the shootings and saying the handgun he used to shoot the deputies was found inside the Mercedes Benz after he stole it.
Lonseth also told the jury that a deputy heard Murray yell out “Y’all killed Sam, I lost it,” prior to being interviewed by detectives. Other witnesses are expected to testify that Murray admitted his involvement in the shootings.
Perez-Perez also is expected to testify during the trial, which is expected to last more than three weeks, Lonseth said.