STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) — Prosecutors in the Central California city of Stockton on Tuesday charged suspected serial killer Wesley Brownlee, 43, on three counts of murder, following Brownlee's arrest over the weekend.
Investigators said ballistics testing linked six shooting deaths and one attempted murder. But San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said she is waiting to add further charges until more evidence is processed.
At a press conference on Tuesday following Brownlee's arraignment hearing, Verber Salazar said due to the special circumstance of multiple murders, Brownlee may face the death penalty instead of life without parole if convicted. He is currently being held without bail.
Families and friends of the people found dead in separate incidents spanning the summer packed the courtroom where Brownlee faced San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge John Soldati. Brownlee was appointed a public offender and spent most of the approximately six-minute hearing staring at the ceiling.
"We're only four days into this, so you have to understand that there's going to be hundreds and hundreds of reports — maybe even thousands of reports in this case before we have a full visual of what we're dealing with. So charges will be amended as time goes on," Verber Salazar said at the press conference.
Despite another homicide in Stockton on Tuesday morning, Verber Salazar and Police Chief Stanley McFadden say they're confident that there is no other killer on the loose.
"We believe beyond a reasonable doubt that we have the right suspects in custody. We wouldn't charge the case if we didn't have sufficient evidence to believe that is true," Verber Salazar said.
Police say Brownlee was arrested while "out hunting," dressed in black and armed with a handgun. They say the person dubbed "the Shadow Stalker" appears to have targeted homeless men and people who were alone. None of the victims were robbed or beaten, and investigators are still searching for a motive, and Verber Salazar said they are investigating whether the killings are hate crimes.
The five men killed this year were Paul Yaw, 35; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21; Juan Cruz, 52; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54. Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was killed in Oakland in 2021.
Natasha LaTour, 46, survived after being shot nine to ten times on the streets of Stockton in 2021. LaTour charged at him and her attacker walked away, leaving her to bleed out. A nearby couple found her and called 911. She woke up four days later in the hospital.
Brownlee has a lengthy criminal history beginning with a drug charge in 1997 for which he served two years in state prison. He did another three years on drug charges in 2001 and was discharged from parole in 2006. In 2009, Brownlee faced a DUI charge and in 2014 he served 14 days in county jail after pleading no contest to cocaine possession. He also had two traffic violations in 2021 and 2022.
Another arraignment hearing has been set for Nov. 14.Follow @@smolestwriter
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