LA Forensics: Where There's Smoke...
Kerry Ephriam pleaded guilty to murder. His brother Kacey and cousin Michael Valentine went to trial. Both were convicted of murdering Lon Kim. Kerry was sentenced to approximately 30 years. Kacey and Michael each drew life sentences.
Although prosecutors don't have to prove why someone committed a crime, only that the person charged committed it, Deputy D.A. Michael Duarte, who prosecuted the case, thinks he knows why Lon Kim was killed:
"The motive was twofold in this case. First of all, Kerry wanted to relieve his debt with Lon Kim. That was number one, and the way to do that was to get rid of Lon Kim and claim he had repaid him and somebody else committed this murder. Secondly, they wanted to rob Lon because they knew that he always carried cash because he was collecting his own rents."
For Michael Duarte, the Lon Kim case was one of the most disturbing of his career.
"It was horrible what they did to him," Duarte says. "You've got Michael Valentine, who's just huge, right out of prison. He's all buffed up. I mean, they're pistol whipping (Mr. Kim) with this gun after they've tied him up with duct tape. And then they put him in the trunk of this car. This poor man, he can't even move, can't breathe. Then they take him out to the crime scene, tied up, and then they set him on fire and then shoot him in the back. And we know that when he was set on fire he was still alive."
The punishment didn't fit the crime, Duarte says. "I really believe they should have gotten the death penalty."
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