Killer of Whittier police officer sentenced to life without parole

Calling an East Los Angeles man convicted of two killings including Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer “cool and calculating,” a Norwalk Superior Court judge sentenced Michael Christopher Mejia to life without parole on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

Judge Roger Ito, who oversaw the seven-day trial ending with a verdict on Sept. 1, handed down the sentence for Mejia, 30, who came into court Wednesday wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and black mask and showed no emotion during the proceedings.

“I can’t imagine a more extreme situation for first-degree murder,” Ito said.

“The defendant has not shown remorse,” the judge added. “He is not contrite. He is quite proud. It is extraordinary to the court that level of callousness. I’m going to sentence you to the max.”

In addition to two life without parole sentences, Ito also sentenced Mejia to a total of 115 years to life and 34 years and four months for the various crimes he was convicted of by the jury in September.

Between four and six deputy sheriffs, who act as baliffs, were present for the proceedings.

Jury needed just two hours

Jurors only needed only two hours to find Mejia guilty of killing Boyer, attempting to kill Whittier Officer Patrick Hazell and killing Roy Torres of East Los Angeles in a separate case.

Ultimately, the jury convicted Mejia on two counts of first-degree murder, a count of attempted murder and a count of carjacking. In addition, the jury also made findings of special circumstances that could lead to a life sentence without the possibility of parole: one murder victim was a police officer, there were multiple murders and Mejia attempted to avoid arrest.

The crimes were spread over mere hours on the morning of Feb. 20, 2017. It began with a 5 a.m. confrontation with Torres, in the converted garage where the victim lived. Torres’ girlfriend came home to find Mejia threatening to execute him at the end of a countdown from 10, she testified.

He didn’t make it past eight, Torres’ girlfriend testified, with Mejia shooting Torres in the head, then demanding the keys to his car, a 2001 Dodge Stratus. Prosecutors said they don’t know why Mejia shot Torres.

Several hours later at the intersection of Mar Vista Street and Colima Road in Whittier, that car collided with another driven by Chen Ta Chia, then of La Puente, who was driving his then-girlfriend/now-wife to work, Chia testified. Several police officers were called to the accident scene around 8:30 a.m. Chia said Mejia repeatedly apologized.

When Mejia’s car came back as reported stolen, the situation quickly escalated into a shootout, with Mejia fatally shooting Boyer and injuring Hazell, the latter testified in court.

A key issue at trial was whether Mejia was an active gang member. Prosecutors said he was a member of the East Los Angeles Winter Gardens gang, citing the many tattoos on his face and body.

Boyer’s killing spurred shockwaves in Whittier and throughout the region.

“The news spread like wildfire, and people were in shock that something like that would have happened,” said Ray Wong, a retired teacher and field representative for then-state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

By the time evening came, mourners by the thousands lit candles and listened to speeches outside the Whittier Police Department headquarters.

More than 50 police officers showed up at the hearing Wednesday, watching it either from the courtroom or on video in a second courtroom.

Whittier Mayor Joe Vinartieri predicted people will never forget the killing.

“For the people of Whittier and at least for me, it is the end of a chapter,” Vinatieri said.

“Unfortunately, it’s not the end of the book,” he said. “For people in Whittier who knew Officer Boyer, it will be with us forever. I will never forget that date. It was one of the worst days of being an elected official I ever had.”

Boyer’s stepfather, Don Clark, said he’s glad the case is over.

“We got the best we could actually get under these circumstances,” Clark said. “Now, I can forget about it and get on with our lives. He got off better than he should.”

Death penalty controversy

The District Atttorney’s Office in Febuary decided not to ask for the death penalty, changing its stance from 2018.

Whittier Police Chief Aviv Bar opposed the decision by the District Attorney’s Office spoke against it at a Feb. 18 hearing during which he asked for all of the applicable charges and penalties to remain in place.

“What justice is right now in the County of Los Angeles, he got a favorable sentence,” Bar said. “Make no mistake if this happened in any other county, this would have been a death penalty case.”

Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer was killed in the line of duty on Monday Feb. 20, 2017. (Courtesy Whittier Police Department)

Mejia’s lawyer in written papers asked Ito not to impose life without parole because the District Attorney’s office as part of a new policy is no longer seeking such sentences, Ito said.

However, the new policy was announced after this case was filed and thus didn’t apply, Ito said.

“He truly deserves the same sentence he inflicted on Officer Keith Boyer,” the police chief said, telling the judge that Mejia “deserves no leniency.”

Over the objection of the two prosecutors in the trial, the District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid to seek the death penalty against Mejia in February. The reversal came just over two months after District Attorney George Gascon was sworn into office.

Gascon — who said he had a “mandate from the public” — has vowed that the office will no longer pursue the death penalty.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Bar said outside court Wednesday of the death penalty being pulled as a potential punishment for Mejia. “I think if this happened in any other county around here, this would be a death penalty case.”

The chief told reporters that his department is still reeling from the loss of Boyer, a 27-year veteran of the city’s police force and the father of three grown children.

“It’s extremely difficult every day for everybody that works here, especially for a large team of officers that were there, that tended to him as he died on the street that he protected for so many years,” Bar said. “His picture is up, his locker is decorated, a memorial is there and it’s on our mind every single day. It’s on the mind of every single officer who goes on patrol, not just in our department, but anywhere in the county, that the dangers are out there.”

One of the slain officer’s sons, Josh, told the judge that his heart was “shattered to pieces” the day he was informed that his father had been murdered in the course of duty and that things “continued to get worse” when the District Attorney’s Office opted against seeking the death penalty for his father’s killer.

“Please do not let this man have any chance of parole,” he implored the judge. “This is the kind of man that we don’t want on the streets.”

Boyer’s stepfather and aunt had also objected earlier to the decision by the District Attorney’s Office not to pursue the death penalty. Boyer’s daughter, Ashley Sheleretis, called Mejia “a slave to evil and darkness,” and told the defendant that he had made her father into a “legacy” and “caused a cop to be celebrated across the nation.”

One of Torres’ cousins, Tiffany Garcia, said it has been four years and nine months of “heartache, pain and many tears” and that she “never thought that I could hurt so bad.”

Neither prosecutors nor Mejia’s attorney, Paul Cohen, spoke during Wednesday’s hearing.

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