‘True killers’: SLO County has had the most murders this year since 2012

A nine-month pregnant soon-to-be mother of three. A 90-year-old community activist. A migrant farm worker. An Oceano father. And a 23-year-old Paso Robles man.

Each were killed at the hands of another in San Luis Obispo County in 2019.

It’s amounted to the county’s highest number of homicides since 2012 — with four months left in the year.

San Luis Obispo County’s rate of homicides is still low compared to nearby counties, despite this year’s disturbing trend, and officials say the recent killings share few similarities other than being the result of acts of violence.

“Here we have people who are true killers,” District Attorney Dan Dow said by phone Friday. “These (murders) were not caused by psychosis or irrational thought. That is a bit of an aberration.”

Dow, who joined the local District Attorney’s Office in 2007, said this is the highest number of active murder cases in his office that he can recall.

He said some of the murders committed in 2012, the last year the county had six homicides, shared at least some similarities in that they involved defendants with mental health disorders.

But the local homicides in 2019 are different.

“These are all just real violent crimes. There’s no similarity, no trend other than these are people who made real bad decisions,” Dow said.

In the first eight months of 2019, the county recorded six homicides, and six people are currently facing murder charges related to those cases. That’s a rate of roughly 2.1 homicides for every 100,000 residents.

Last year, the county recorded three homicides, or just more than one per 100,000 residents.

By comparison, Santa Barbara County last year recorded 11 homicides, or 2.4 homicides per 100,000 residents.

Though its been seven years since San Luis Obispo County has seen six homicides in a single year, it’s hardly a rare event. There have been six or more homicides in a year 11 times since 1987, according to data from the California Department of Justice.

With an overall downward trend in homicides since the late 1980s, San Luis Obispo’s deadliest years were in 1990, 1992 and 1994, with nine, 10, and nine homicides, respectively.

The county’s current two-year spike in homicides most closely resembles what it experienced in 2006, when six homicides were recorded following a year in which the number of homicides doubled, from two to four.

Unlike murders — crimes which have to be proven in court — homicides are not always the result of a crime. Accidental or self-defense-related deaths of a person at the hands of another are counted as homicides in the official data.

The District Attorney’s Office currently has nine ongoing non-vehicular murder cases (not including one ongoing murder case involving an allegedly DUI driver), involving 11 defendants.

Those cases include three in which “special circumstances” are alleged where the death penalty or life in prison without parole are possibilities.

Two capital cases, on top of other murder cases, have caused the Public Defender’s Office to request the county provide it an additional attorney with felony case experience to handle the load.

Chief Deputy Jim Taylor, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s Detectives Division, has been with the agency since 1986. He remembers spikes in homicides in the early ‘90s, when the county was more sparsely populated, and said recent years have trended in the low single digits.

“Homicide rates, although they’ve increased for a short period this year, in my experience over 30 years or so in this county, the homicide rate is well within what I’ve seen in my career,” Taylor said. “It’s not out of the norm.”

The quick succession of recent homicides has kept his investigators busy, however, the department will sometimes “triage” deputies to a breaking case, especially in the pivotal first 48 hours, he said.

Taylor added that his department has cleared all but one of the county’s nine homicides over the past two years, in addition to cracking two cold murder cases from Atascadero in the late 1970s.

Here are the six homicides recorded in SLO County in the first eight months of 2019:

Larry Bross, 90, Oceano

Larry Bross, a well-known Oceano activist, was found killed in his home. Larry Bross Facebook page

In January, a neighbor of Oceano activist Larry Bross found the 90-year-old beaten and stabbed to death inside his home in the 1400 block of Strand Way, south of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area.

Sheriff’s investigators have repeatedly asked the public for information regarding the killing, but as of Friday, the case remained unsolved, the county’s only ongoing homicide investigation.

Chief Deputy Taylor did not have any update on that case other than to say that with the closure of another recent homicide, all resources are being expended in bringing that investigation to conclusion.

“We want to get that case solved,” he said.

Carrington Broussard, 27, Heritage Ranch

In March, Daniel Raul Rodriguez Johnson, 31, allegedly murdered girlfriend Carrington Broussard, 27, before leading police on a chase up the North Coast in a stolen California Highway Patrol vehicle. Broussard was nine months pregnant at the time of her death, and her baby son did not survive.

Rodriguez Johnson is facing a possible death sentence in that case, one of two potentially capital cases currently making its way through San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Daniel Raul Rodriguez Johnson, 31, of Heritage Ranch, is suspected of killing 27-year-old Carrington Jane Broussard of Paso Robles and her unborn baby. Joe Johnston

Daniel Fuentes, 41, Oceano

In April, Daniel Fuentes, Sr., 41, died inside the home of a neighbor in the 2200 block of Beach Street in Oceano after he knocked on the neighbor’s door and told the residents inside that he had been shot, the Sheriff’s Office said. The case had gone unsolved until mid-August when the Sheriff’s Office announced it had arrested three alleged gang members in relation to Fuentes’ killing.

Fuentes was not affiliated with a gang, authorities say.

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From left, Nathaniel Jara, Gabriel Garay and Robert Garay are accused of killing Daniel Fuentes Sr. of Oceano in April 2019.

Nathaniel Alexander Jara, 21, of Avila Beach, and brothers Gabriel Luis Garay, 21, and Robert Joseph Garay, 28, are currently being held in County Jail without bail. It is alleged that the elder Garay fired the fatal shots. The three are due back in court Sept. 10.

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Daniel Fuentes Sr., 41, died early April 3, 2019, inside the home of a neighbor after he was shot in the 2200 block of Beach Street in Oceano. SLO County Sheriff's Office

Cristopher Vento Wilson, 23, Paso Robles

In June, a recent parolee was arrested on suspicion of murder following a stabbing in Shandon. Kejuan Bynum, 26, is facing a count of murder in the stabbing death of Cristopher Vento Wilson of Paso Robles.

At about 5 p.m. June 1, deputies received a 911 call reporting that two men had been fighting in the 200 block of Escondido Way when one of the men was stabbed. Wilson, 23, was taken to a hospital, where he later died from his injuries. Bynum was taken into custody after being stopped in a car in Pismo Beach. He is due back in court Sept. 16.

Seated at right, Kejuan Guy Bynum, 26, of Atascadero, appeared in court June 7 for an alleged parole violation. Linden Mackoui attorney at left and Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Johnston is in background. Bynum is accused of the June 1 fatal stabbing of Cristopher Vento Wilson, 23, in Shandon. David Middlecamp

Primitivo Pacheco Ortega, 20, Paso Robles

In July, the body of Primitivo Pacheco Ortega, a migrant farm worker, was found dead with “multiple stab wounds” off Estrella Road near Hog Canyon. He did not have any identification on him when he was found, and detectives identified him through fingerprints.

Fausto Ortega Maldonado, 28, of Paso Robles, was arrested Aug. 23 on suspicion of Pacheco Ortega’s killing. Officials say the two knew each other prior to the alleged homicide but declined to provide more information about the nature of the men’s relationship or a motive for the alleged homicide. Ortega Maldonado is due in court next week for a further arraignment.

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Fausto Ortega Maldonado, 28, photo left, was arrested on suspicion of murder after Primitivo Pacheco Ortega was found dead with multiple stab wounds last month. David Middlecamp
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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.