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Saturday, 15 March 2008

Miguel Diaz-Elrod pleaded guilty in the May 2004 shooting death of Saron Tith on Tacoma's East Side

Miguel Diaz-Elrod.
The 22-year-old gang member has pleaded guilty in the May 2004 shooting death of Saron Tith on Tacoma's East Side. On March 4, Diaz-Elrod (seen here) entered a guilty plea to one count of second-degree murder in the case. Diaz-Elrod did not admit guilt in his plea deal."I did not commit this crime," he wrote in plea paperwork. "However, after reviewing the evidence with my attorney I believe there is a substantial likelihood I would be convicted by a jury. I am pleading guilty to accept the state's reduction in the charge and sentencing recommendation."
Diaz-Elrod, who originally was charged with first-degree murder in the case, is to be sentenced April 25. Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 22 years in prison.
It appears cooperating witnesses have just come forward to help Tacoma police detectives solve two gang-related homicides on the East Side.Saron Tith, 19, was fatally shot while riding in the back seat of a friend's car May 23, 2004. The shooting occurred in the 3900 block of East Roosevelt Avenue.Donald George-Oya, 18, was fatally shot while riding a bicycle along East 40th Street near East I Street early on Jan. 5, 2006.According to court documents, Miguel Diaz-Elrod, 21, has been charged with first-degree murder in both homicides. Diaz-Elrod pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm in October and was sentenced to prison. He's expected back in court Thursday to answer the murder charges.Also charged with first-degree murder in the Tith homicide is Bunann Orn, 29, and Danney Cherm, 22. Orn was arrested Monday and is expected to be arraigned today. There is a warrant out for Cherm's arrest.According to court documents, Diaz-Elrod, Orn and Cherm decided to go after rival gang members the night of May 23, 2004, because those gang members had flashed their hand signs at Diaz-Elrod, Orn and Cherm. In the gang culture, the behavior is perceived as highly inflammatory and challenging.The three hopped in Cherm's car. Diaz-Elrod and Orn had guns, according to court documents. Four hours after the Tith shooting, Diaz-Elrod told an unnamed witness that he killed somebody during a shooting, according to court documents. He said they waited in some bushes and that when the cars containing rival gang members passed, he emptied the clip of his gun. "He (Diaz-Elrod) said that they did the shooting to avenge the fat that the rivals had shot at Defendant Orn a couple of days earlier," court documents state.
Cherm was charged in Tith's death last year but the charges were dismissed. A fourth person, Adrian Jerrell Smith, pleaded last year to second-degree manslaughter in Tith's death and was sentenced to five years, seven months in prison.
In the George-Oya homicide, Diaz-Elrod and Adam Benoit, 28, have been charged with first-degree murder. These two have long been suspected in the homicide, which was another retaliatory shooting.
George-Oya, a known gang member, was believed to have shot and injured Daquan Stallworth last December. Stallworth is an associate of Diaz-Elrod and Benoit, according to court documents.Witnesses say after Stallworth was injured, his associates talked about killing George-Oya in retaliation. Diaz-Elrod told an unnamed witness that he shot George-Oya a couple of days after the homicide, court documents state.Diaz-Elrod said he saw George-Oya riding a bicycle and got out of a van to confront him. He said he shot George-Oya, who tried to pedal away. George-Oya fell to the ground and Diaz-Elrod then shot George-Oya several more times while he was on the ground, according to court documents.
Other witnesses have told investigators that Benoit was seen in the van with Diaz-Elrod shortly before the shooting.
Detectives found 29 shell casings at the crime scene. George-Oya was shot 12 times.
The charges filed in George-Oya's slaying leaves two unsolved homicides for the year in Tacoma - the shooting death of Velma Tirado in August and last night's fatal shooting on the East Side.



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