L.A. robber avoided prison after stealing Rolex. Now, he's accused in Fashion Island killing

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The alleged leader of an armed robbery crew charged with killing a New Zealand tourist last week outside Newport Beach’s Fashion Island mall had been placed on probation for stealing a Rolex at gunpoint in Santa Monica.

He avoided prison time in that case after Los Angeles County prosecutors agreed to a three-year suspended sentence, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.

Leroy Ernest McCrary, 26, now faces a special circumstances murder charge that could carry the death penalty after authorities allege he ran over Patricia “Trish” McKay, 68, during a July 2 robbery attempt.

Orange County prosecutors say McCrary and two other men targeted McKay’s husband, former chair of the Bank of New Zealand Douglas McKay, for his high-end watch.

McCrary and the other defendants have not yet entered pleas, and their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

A booking mug of a man.

A booking mug shows Leroy McCrary, who was arrested by the Santa Monica Police Department on Feb. 2, 2023, in connection with an armed robbery that occurred Sept. 25, 2022.

(Santa Monica Police Department)

The Fashion Island slaying is renewing interest in the 2022 Rolex theft.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Erika Aklufi said surveillance video in that case showed McCrary putting a handgun to the head of a man on Broadway. He and an accomplice demanded the man’s watch, she said.

McCrary’s DNA also was recovered from the victim’s shirt, which he’d grabbed during the robbery, police said.

Prosecutors charged McCrary, who had been arrested by L.A. police a month later, and Donta Baker with robbery in the Santa Monica case based on the DNA evidence, according to court records reviewed by The Times.

Before that, McCrary had been convicted in a 2020 case of making criminal threats, a felony.

Prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that spared him prison time in the Santa Monica case, court records show. McCrary pleaded no contest on April 26, 2023, to one count of robbery and was sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Cathryn Brougham to three years. But Brougham suspended the sentence and placed McCrary on two years’ probation. She also ordered him to complete 200 hours of community service.

McCrary’s suspended sentence ran concurrent to another suspended sentence for a conviction for possessing a gun as a felon in a separate case the LAPD investigated.

Brougham ordered a probation report be completed before McCrary’s sentencing. But courthouse clerks could find no report when The Times requested it. Such reports usually give a recommendation on sentencing and the defendant’s suitability for probation.

McCrary’s co-defendant pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property in exchange for prosecutors dropping the robbery count. Baker, who had three prior felony convictions for grand theft, possessing a gun as a felon and escaping from custody, was also sentenced to two years’ probation.

Los Angeles County prosecutors defended their handling of the Santa Monica case, which officials several days ago said “had significant problems with proof.”

A spokesperson in the district attorney’s office said an inability to identify the defendant in the surveillance video hampered the case. Two witnesses were unable to identify the suspects, the spokesperson said, noting that the robber’s face was not shown in the video because he was wearing a mask.

She also said that prosecutors were unable to identify the item in the suspect’s hands, and that a confirmatory DNA test was never conducted on the robbery victim’s shirt, which called into question its accuracy.

“As a result of these issues, the management team ... authorized a plea offer that allowed [him] to be placed on probation with a suspended state prison sentence,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

Legal expert Louis Shapiro, a defense attorney not involved in the case, said to be admissible in California, a confirmatory DNA test is required to show the probability that the results are reliable. Still, he said, the fact that Santa Monica police had DNA made the robbery case stronger than most.

“It is very rare to pull DNA in a robbery case” before the trial stage, Shapiro said. “Quite frankly, the office usually gets that kind of confirmation down the road.”

Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor, said confirmatory DNA testing in a criminal case is a basic part of preparing for trial and does not mean that a case has problems of proof.

A police officer escorts a man with his hands behind his back.

Newport Beach police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies work together to take into custody a man wanted in the death of Patricia McKay.

(OnScene.TV)

Cody Green, president of the Santa Monica Police Officers Assn., said that investigators had plenty of time to get a confirmatory DNA test and that the plea deal was made before any preliminary hearings were conducted.

“This case was as solid a case as they come,” Green said.

Detractors of L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón say the case’s handling is further evidence of the mismanagement of the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office. Gascón’s opponent in the November election, Nathan Hochman, said the district attorney’s “malpractice appears to have cost another life.”

In the Newport Beach case, Orange County prosecutors say McCrary, Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, of Los Angeles and Jaden Cunningham, 18, of Lancaster targeted the McKays, who had just left the upscale Fashion Island mall.

Three suspects pulled up to the McKays in a white Toyota Camry. Two masked robbers jumped out, with one putting a gun to the New Zealand businessman’s head and demanding his watch, authorities said.

A third assailant dragged Trish McKay into the street while trying to wrest shopping bags away from her. By then, the Camry was moving forward. Doug McKay jumped in front of the vehicle to try to save his wife. But authorities say the driver — identified by police as McCrary — ran over the woman and dragged her to her death.

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