For Wilma Mitchell-Millen and Daryl Millen, parents of slain teenager Frank Mitchell, part of their wait for justice is finally over.
On Tuesday morning, Lt. Detective Lisa Perrine of the Pasadena Police Department and other detectives traveled to their home to tell them that several suspects had been arrested in connection with the murder of their 16-year-old son, whose nude body was found in an alley in Northwest Pasadena, near El Molino Avenue and Mountain Street, in July.
On Wednesday, investigators announced to the press that they had formally charged James Wilson, 31, and Rodney Fletcher, 24, of Pasadena in connection with Mitchell’s murder. Both men have been in custody since July for parole violations, authorities said.
When contacted Tuesday, Mitchell’s mother declined to comment for this story. Millen was not at home at the time that detectives came to the house and was not immediately available for comment.
Wilson, an ex-convict, has been charged with Mitchell’s murder and a number of sexual assaults committed during the course of that crime, said Perrine. Wilson is charged with 12 counts of forced sex crimes, one count of murder with special circumstances, three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and/or firearm, one count of carjacking and one count conspiracy to commit arson.
Fletcher is charged with one count of murder with special circumstances, two counts of conspiracy to commit murder, one count of carjacking, one count of assault with a firearm and one count of conspiracy to commit arson.
If they are convicted, both men could be eligible for the death penalty.
Perrine declined to state whether Wilson and Fletcher are suspected in other crimes.
Also charged in connection with Mitchell’s murder are Damon Barnes, 39, of San Gabriel, 33-year-old Kristen Joyner of Lancaster and Muriel Clark, 47, of Ontario. The trio is charged with being accessories to murder and conspiring to commit arson.
Barnes is the brother of Wilson. Clark is Wilson’s aunt. Barnes, Joyner and Clark are all being held on $1 million bail, said Perrine.
Law enforcement officials would not elaborate on the nature of the charges because the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated.
Although Wilson and Barnes have been in police custody since July, the three others were only arrested this week, Perrine said. All five suspects were formally charged this week by the LA County District Attorney’s Office, Perrine said.
Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian said that the department never stopped working on the case.
"I made a statement some time ago that we would not allow Mr. Mitchell’s death to be forgotten, and we did not," Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian told the Weekly in a cell phone interview. Melekian is currently away from Pasadena on reserve duty with the US Coast Guard.
Wilson, who was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon, was arrested in July for violating parole and is being held without bail. Fletcher was arrested for violating parole on a residential burglary conviction. He also is being held without bail.
All five suspects are expected to be arraigned this week in Pasadena Superior Court, Perrine said.
Investigators believe Mitchell was murdered in July at a different location and dumped in Johnson Alley, a little-known 100-yard passageway between Wright Avenue and Boylston Street.
People living on Wright Avenue told the Weekly in August that they did not hear or see anything suspicious the night Mitchell’s body was discovered.
Paramedics attempted in vain to revive Mitchell at the scene. Although Mitchell’s body showed no outward signs of trauma, detectives immediately treated the case as a homicide. Their suspicions were confirmed following an autopsy of the youngster.
As he has done with other high-profile cases, Melekian placed a hold on Mitchell’s autopsy report, prohibiting the LA County Department of Coroners from talking to the media about the case.
Melekian would not elaborate on how Mitchell was strangled or provide details of the sexual assault.
Shortly after the murder, then-Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Chief of Operations Craig Harvey told the Weekly that it is possible that the body of a choking victim would not show any outward signs of trauma.
"Sometimes evidence of manual strangulation is not readily apparent to the naked or untrained eye," said Harvey, speaking generally. "But upon autopsy you would probably find some type of bruising or fracture to the hyoid bone."
The hyoid bone is the only bone in the body not connected to another bone and is usually fractured or bruised when someone is killed in a choking incident.
The Weekly first learned of the strangulation and sexual assault several months ago, but police declined to confirm that information prior to now due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Harvey was not speaking specifically about the condition of Mitchell’s hyoid bone due to the administrative hold placed on the report by Melekian. A coroner’s spokesman told the Weekly Tuesday morning that the hold was still in place.
About 500 people attended Mitchell’s funeral in July at New Revelations Missionary Baptist Church. After the funeral, his mother and his stepfather accompanied the boy’s body to Blue Island, Ill., where he was buried.
After the funeral, Millen told the Weekly that he was glad Frank was able to attend a prom with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Barbara Guerra, because he would never get to attend his own.
Mitchell grew up in the Community Arms Apartments on Orange Grove Boulevard near Fair Oaks Avenue. He wanted to be an attorney, according to his parents.
The tall, affable teenager, who liked to dress well, had just completed probation after spending time in a youth facility for grand theft auto after taking the family car without permission. Before his death, Mitchell worked for a Christian-based charity mentoring young people who wanted to turn their lives around.
"He had an old soul," Dr. Manton McKinney, executive to the senior pastor at New Revelations, said of Mitchell last summer. "It was like he had been here before. He had that type of aura. He was very articulate and he made a lot of sense. He talked about changes he wanted to see in the community and himself. I think he made those changes in himself."
Mitchell was also part of a now-defunct group called the Movement, which sought to keep young men on the straight and narrow.
"That was a good young dude," said area anti-gang activist Tim Rhambo. "He dressed sharp, man. With a lot of people, it was hard to know if they were in it, but he was really in it. Man, he was in it. Every time we mentioned there was a meeting, he wanted to go. He always wanted to be part of things."
According to his stepfather, kids at school called Mitchell "Preacher Man" because he was always sharing his Christian faith with others and he wanted them to attend church.
For local police officers, Mitchell’s death took on an added urgency. Unlike the other six homicides last year, Mitchell was a minor, and almost immediately detectives began working around the clock to solve the case.
In 1997 Melekian declared that there would be "No more dead children" due to gang violence in Pasadena. That declaration was made when not only half of the homicide victims were under 21, but 50 percent of the people committing those crimes were underage, according to Pasadena Police Cmdr. Chris Vicino.
Since that time, there have only been six youth-related homicides in Pasadena, an average of less than one a year.
"I am a parent myself. When you talk about child being murdered, it tugs on the heart strings, especially those of us that are parents," said Lt. Detective Randell Taylor. "Then the personal training comes into play. Every homicide or loss of life is tragic. Any time a child gets murdered, we take extra attention. But when you have a child, everybody rallies around that."