Fashion Island murder suspect did not receive jail time in previous case

The alleged ringleader of an armed robbery gang accused of killing a New Zealand tourist last week outside Newport Beach's Fashion Island mall has been released on parole for stealing a Rolex at gunpoint in Santa Monica.

He avoided prison in that case after Los Angeles County prosecutors agreed to a three-year suspended sentence, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.

Leroy Ernest McCrary, 26, now faces a special circumstances murder charge that could carry the death penalty after authorities allege he ran over Patricia “Trish” McKay, 68, during an attempted robbery on July 2.

Orange County prosecutors say McCrary and two other men attacked McKay's husband, former Bank of New Zealand chairman Douglas McKay, over his high-end watch.

McCrary and the other defendants have not yet entered pleas and their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fashion Island murder renews interest in 2022 Rolex heist.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Erika Aklufi said surveillance video from that case showed McCrary putting a gun to a man's head on Broadway. He and an accomplice demanded the man hand over his watch, she said.

McCrary's DNA was also recovered from the victim's shirt, which he had grabbed during the robbery, police said.

Prosecutors charged McCrary, who was arrested by Los Angeles police a month later, and Donta Baker with robbery in the Santa Monica case based on DNA evidence, according to court records reviewed by The Times.

Newport Beach police officers walk behind crime scene tape outside Fashion Island after a New Zealand woman was killed during an attempted robbery.

(Susan Hoffman)

Prior to that, McCrary had been convicted in 2020 in a case of making criminal threats, a felony.

Prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that spared him prison time in the Santa Monica case, court records show. McCrary pleaded guilty April 26, 2023, to one count of robbery and was sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Cathryn Brougham to three years. But Brougham suspended the sentence and placed McCrary on probation for two years. She also ordered him to complete 200 hours of community service.

McCrary's suspended sentence came concurrently with another suspended sentence for a conviction for possessing a weapon as a felon in a separate case the LAPD investigated.

Brougham ordered a probation report completed before sentencing McCrary, but court officials could not find any report when The Times requested it. Such reports typically provide a recommendation on sentencing and a defendant's suitability for probation.

McCrary's co-defendant pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property in exchange for prosecutors dismissing the robbery charge. Baker, who had three prior felony convictions for grand larceny, possession of a weapon as a felon and escape from custody, was also sentenced to two years of probation.

Los Angeles County prosecutors defended their handling of the Santa Monica case, which officials said several days ago “had significant problems with evidence.”

A spokesman for the district attorney's office said the inability to identify the defendant on surveillance video hampered the case. Two witnesses were unable to identify the suspects, the spokesman said, noting that the robber's face was not shown on the video because he was wearing a mask.

He also said prosecutors were unable to identify the object in the suspect's hands and that confirmatory DNA testing was never performed on the robbery victim's shirt, calling into question its accuracy.

“As a result of these issues, the management team… authorized a plea offer that allowed [him] “He will be released on probation with a suspended state prison sentence,” the district attorney's office said in a statement.

The crime scene at the Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach.

The crime scene at the Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach after a tourist was killed in an apparent robbery attempt on July 2.


Legal expert Louis Shapiro, a defense attorney who was not involved in the case, said that for the case to be admissible in California, confirmatory DNA testing is required to show the likelihood that the results are reliable. Still, he said, the fact that Santa Monica police had DNA made the robbery case stronger than most.

“It’s very rare to get DNA in a robbery case” before the trial stage, Shapiro said. “Frankly, the office usually gets that kind of confirmation later.”

Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor, said confirmatory DNA testing in a criminal case is a basic part of trial preparation and does not mean a case has evidentiary problems.

Cody Green, president of the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, said investigators had plenty of time to obtain confirmatory DNA evidence and that the plea deal was made before any preliminary hearings were held.

“This case is as strong as it gets,” Green said.

Critics of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón say the handling of the case is further evidence of mismanagement at the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office. Gascón’s opponent in the November election, Nathan Hochman, said the district attorney’s “malpractice appears to have cost another life.”

In the Newport Beach case, Orange County prosecutors say McCrary, Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, of Los Angeles and Jaden Cunningham, 18, of Lancaster targeted the McKays, who had just left the upscale Fashion Island shopping center.

Three suspects approached the McKay home in a white Toyota Camry. Two masked robbers jumped out of the vehicle and one of them put a gun to the New Zealand businessman's head and demanded his watch, authorities said.

A third assailant dragged Trish McKay into the street while trying to snatch her grocery bags. By then, the Camry was moving forward. Doug McKay jumped in front of the vehicle to try to save his wife. But authorities say the driver, identified by police as McCrary, ran over the woman and dragged her to death.

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