LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles County judge ruled a man who led police on a high-speed pursuit last summer will face a murder charge in the death of a woman shot by police during a shootout outside a Trader Joe’s supermarket in 2018.
Prosecutors say Melyda Corado was caught in a crossfire between Los Angeles Police Department officers and Gene Atkins after Atkins crashed his car into a utility pole outside the Silver Lake neighborhood market following a high-speed pursuit by police. Officers testified Atkins fired out of a back window during the pursuit and continued to fire at them as he ran toward the market.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar said there is enough evidence to charge Atkins with Corado’s murder, the attempted murder of his grandmother Mary Madison, and his girlfriend Leah Williams, who he shot earlier in the day. Both women survived, with Madison testifying at a previous conditional hearing on the incident.
Atkins will also face charges of kidnapping of a group of people who were at the Trader Joe’s market among other charges. Several people taken hostage at the market testified over a four-day preliminary hearing about the split-second decisions they made after Atkins crashed his car, shot at police and ran into the market amid police gunfire.
Prosecutors say Atkins was bleeding from his arm when he walked inside the building. A firearms expert testified Atkins fired multiple shots from behind a produce stand while inside the market.
Officer Sinlen Tse said he shot toward the entrance of Trader Joe’s as Atkins went inside. In June 2019, the Los Angeles Police Commission found Tse and Officer Sarah Winans had complied with department policies when they fired into the crowded market as they shot at Atkins.
Tse testified in court that he fired approximately five shots at Atkins. Winans was not called to testify during the preliminary hearing.
Just before the shooting began, Emma Argueta and her boyfriend were pulling out of the parking lot in their car when they heard sirens. She was in the passenger seat and saw Atkins crash, get out of his car and fire at police. Argueta said she was not able to process what was happening, but when she looked at her boyfriend, he yelled she was bleeding.
“When the police began to fire, I felt something go into my eye,” said Argueta during emotional testimony. She said she is now unable to properly see out of her right eye.
Atkins is charged with mayhem due to Argueta’s injury.
Several people held hostage by Atkins during the three-hour standoff recalled how his emotions bounced around inside the store.
Customer Edward David said Atkins told a group of hostages, “I don’t want to hurt you.” Meanwhile, employee Nolan Klaosterman said he felt like a bargaining chip as Atkins spoke with a police negotiator over a cellphone.
Defense attorney Michael Morse asked witnesses if Atkins ever told them they were not allowed to leave the store.
“I was in a threatening situation. I was a hostage. There was a lot of blood on the floor. The picture paints itself. It was terrifying,” Kloasterman said.
Several witnesses testified Atkins became angry when he saw police snipers on a nearby building and told police that hostages would be “leaving in body bags” if the officers did not get off the roof. Outside court Morse called these comments idle threats.
Shopper Mary Linda Moss says she took cover when the shooting began and called her daughter who was waiting for her in their car in the parking lot. Multiple witnesses testified Moss assisted Atkins with his negotiation and tried to calm him down throughout the incident, because he appeared to be in shock due to the bullet wound in his arm.
Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef showed employee Victor Robles surveillance footage from inside store as panic set in when everyone in the store reacted to the gunshots.
In the video, Corado – an assistant store manager – runs out of the market to help what employees thought was a car crash before coming back into the market and falling to the floor.
Robles said Atkins let him pick someone from the group of hostages to be let go and he chose a young boy who was in the group.
“I didn’t want this young kid to stay any longer,” said Robles who was one of the last hostages to exit the market. “He was just a child and he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Atkins is due back in court on Sept. 18 for his post-preliminary arraignment.