Orange County suspect charged with murder in freeway road-range shooting
Marcus Eriz is believed to have fired shot that killed 6-year-old boy; girlfriend charged as an accomplice
By Nathaniel Percy and Josh Cain | Staff writers
A former auto body worker accused of shooting 6-year-old Aiden Leos on the 55Freeway in Orange in a road rage episode and the girlfriend who authorities say was driving the car appeared in an Orange County courtroom on Tuesday to face charges over the boy’s death.
Marcus Eriz was charged with murdering Leos, and also with firing at a car with people inside, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday. If convicted of both, he could receive a maximum sentence of 40 years to life in prison.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky addresses reporters and community members as Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer listens in at the arraignment and bail hearing for Marcus Eriz and Wynne Lee at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday. PHOTOS BY LEONARD ORTIZ — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A video image of Eriz is displayed on a monitor during Tuesday’s hearing. He was charged with murder and shooting a gun at an occupied motor vehicle.
Wynne Lee was charged with being an accessory to murder, as well as storing a concealed firearm in a vehicle. If convicted, she could receive three years in state prison and one year in county jail.
Neither Eriz, 24, nor Lee, 23, were present in the courtroom on the third floor of the Orange County Superior Court building in the Santa Ana Civic Center.
Because of pandemic protocols, the couple, from separate jails, appeared before a judge on a video screen. With only the top half of his face visible, Eriz peered into a camera set up in front of him. Lee couldn’t be seen at all, but could be heard speaking.
“Yes, I’m here,” Lee said when Judge Larry Yellin asked if she was present.
Yellin accepted a provisional bail amount for both. Bail for Eriz was set at $2million, Lee’s at $500,000. In the brief hearing Tuesday, neither entered a plea; public defenders for both asked for more time to prepare to defend their clients.
They will return to Yellin’s courtroom on June 18.
While Lee was arrested on suspicion of murder, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge her with that crime.
In charging her with being an accessory, his office said prosecutors believe Lee helped Eriz elude capture following the shooting.
“He was the one that fired the firearm, she’s the driver of the vehicle, based on our review of the evidence,” Spitzer said. “We did not believe we could file murder charges against her at this time.”
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Spitzer said prosecutors were charging Eriz with murder based on the depraved heart theory. That means they believe he acted with such reckless disregard that he should have known he was creating an usually high risk of death to another person. Charging documents accuse Eriz of “malice aforethought” in killing Leos. In legal terms, malice can either be express— done with the intent to kill — or implied, displaying recklessness to the point of indifference to life. “Our theory is that it was reckless indifference to life,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer added that he is confident in his decisions. “The case against both of them — we would not file any of these charges if we could not prove them beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “So in respect to both, I’m absolutely convinced that with the charges we’ve filed, we’re rock solid.”
Eriz and Lee were arrested by California Highway Patrol officers at their apartment on Sunday.
About two weeks earlier, police said the couple was driving on the 55 Freeway when Lee made a possibly unsafe lane change in front of Leos’ mother, who responded with a rude gesture.
Officers said Lee’s car then wound up behind the mother’s car, and Eriz fired one shot at the car. The bullet ripped through the trunk and Aiden’s booster seat, hitting the boy in the back.
The Volkswagen station wagon authorities say Lee was driving continued north and was caught on camera on the eastbound 91 Freeway near McKinley Street in Corona.
The CHP released the photo to the public, generating hundreds of tips. But authorities have not revealed how they determined the suspects were Lee and Eriz.
Part of the investigation, at least, involved a needle-in-a-haystack type search. Don Goodbrand, a CHP assistant chief in charge of Orange County patrols, said detectives determined there were tens of thousands of similar Volkswagens in Southern California. They whittled that number down to around 130 before identifying the vehicle they believed was involved in the shooting.
Both the gun and car were found around the same time as the arrests. The station wagon, registered to Lee’s father, was found in Whittier at Eriz’s grandmother’s house, while the gun was stashed at his workplace, sources said.
Spitzer, on Tuesday, said he believed the gun was registered to Eriz. The arrests do not mean someone will get the $500,000-plus reward authorities approved in the case. Getting the reward requires both information leading to an arrest and convictions.
On Tuesday, Spitzer said because of the tips that came in, however, there was a “strong argument” that one person, or several people, could get the reward.
Aiden was eulogized at his memorial service Saturday as a caring, loving boy who only wanted to make people feel better.
He was buried by his family on Monday.
California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Don Goodbrand speaks about the arrests of suspects Marcus Eriz and Wynne Lee in the death of Aiden Leos, in the picture on the right. The 6-year-old boy was shot and killed on his way to kindergarten in his mother’s car on the 55Freeway in Orange on May 21.
Judge Larry Yellin presides over Tuesday’s arraignment and bail hearing for Eriz and Lee. Eriz was charged with murder and Lee was charged with being an accessory after the fact and holding a concealed firearm in a vehicle. MARK RIGHTMIRE— STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER. LEONARD ORTIZ STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
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