Charges filed against suspect in series of killings in Stockton

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Seán Federico O'Murchú, CNN

Updated 7:41 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022
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6:45 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Man suspected of carrying out a series of killings in Stockton could face the death penalty if convicted

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

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More charges are expected to be filed against Wesley Brownlee, who is suspected of carrying out a series of killings in Stockton, California, San Joaquin Deputy District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar announced in a news conference following Tuesday’s court hearing. 

Special circumstances could allow for Brownlee to face life in prison without parole, or possibly the death penalty if convicted. 

In addition to the three murder charges filed Tuesday, police are also investigating two other murders and an attempted murder in San Joaquin County along with one more murder in Oakland that are believed to be connected, according to Salazar.

The seven incidents are connected via ballistics evidence, Salazar said, but the investigations are ongoing. 

The gun believed to have been used in the murders was a so-called ghost gun, prosecutors say, and the weapon, which they say was found in the suspect’s possession, was the same caliber as the one used in each of the six murders.

Ghost guns are untraceable, self-assembled firearms, often put together with parts sold online, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes.

At the time of his arrest, “Mr. Brownlee was seen stalking various unsuspecting victims at the local city park,” the prosecutor said in court, insisting that his incarceration was imperative to ensure public safety.

“We have absolutely no reason to believe there is anyone else out there that you should fear in regards to these cases,” reassured Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden.

“We believe beyond a reasonable doubt that we have the right suspect in custody,” added Salazar.

Brownlee did not enter a plea, and is set to return to court on Nov. 14. CNN has reached out to his attorney for comment. 

6:13 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Police chief says there's no reason to believe there are other suspects in the case

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Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden reassured the public Tuesday that there is no reason to believe there are other suspects in the series of killings in the city.

"We have absolutely no reason to believe that there is anyone out there that you should fear in regards to these cases, but we do want the tips because we know there's people that know information about incidents that happened and we need those people to come forward," McFadden said at a news conference.

5:44 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Shooting suspect was an interstate trucker, district attorney says

The man suspected of killing six people and injuring one other was an interstate trucker, according to San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.

Wesley Brownlee was charged in three killings on Tuesday after being arrested on Saturday based on ballistics evidence police say connects the shootings.

Salazar said police believe Brownlee moved to Stockton, California, this summer.

She added that he does "have some family in the community," but "not very many."

Salazar said Brownlee does have a criminal record related to drug-related offenses.

5:45 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

District attorney says the same gun was used in at least 3 of the shootings

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The district attorney for San Joaquin County said she is confident that the same gun was used in at least three shootings in Stockton, California.

Tori Verber Salazar said at a news conference that her office is charging Wesley Brownlee with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of possession of ammunition in connection to a string of shootings, the earliest stretching back to April 2021.

Salazar said they can "confirm with confidence the same gun was used" in at least three of those homicides — the three the district attorney's office brought charges against on Tuesday.

Brownlee is suspected of killing six men and wounding another woman.

Salazar said her office will prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law for the safety of the community. She also thanked the "hundreds" of people, including detectives and law enforcement, who worked on the case.

Salazar added that her office can only bring charges based on the evidence that is in front of them at this moment.

“We’re only four days into this so you have to understand there is going to be hundreds and hundreds of reports, maybe even thousands in this case before we have a full visual," she said. "Charges will be amended as time goes on."

5:29 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

No bail for suspect in Stockton killings

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

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A Stockton man charged in a series of killings was ordered held without bail Tuesday in Stockton, California.

Wesley Brownlee, who appeared in court on Tuesday, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of possession of ammunition.

Each murder count is enhanced with a special circumstance allegation that Brownlee “has been convicted of more than one offense of murder,” according to the charging documents.

Prosecutors alleged evidence gathered at three murder scenes along with cell phone data associated with Brownlee places him in the proximity of the crimes. Prosecutors also said Brownlee is suspected in three additional killings.

5:39 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Family of victim Lawrence Lopez: Whatever happens to Brownlee "will never equal to what he did"

The older brother of victim Lawrence Lopez said Tuesday that whatever the fate of the suspect Wesley Brownlee, it will "never equal to what he did."

"Only God can judge him," Jerry Lopez told reporters when asked if the alleged killer should face life in prison or the death penalty. "I can't judge him... We leave it in God's hands," he said.

Lopez described his younger brother as a "good man."

According to Lopez's family, the victim was homeless, but despite the circumstances, he went out of his way to assist other homeless people.

Lopez's mother, Pauline Lopez, echoed the sentiments. "He was a wonderful man," she said,

"No matter what, my son, I'll never get him back," she said. "I'm just heartbroken, just so heartbroken."

4:52 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Charges filed against Stockton man connected to a series of killings

From CNN’s Nick Watt

Charges have been filed against Wesley Brownlee, who is allegedly connected to a series of killings in Stockton, California.

He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Jonathan Rodriguez Hernandez, Juan Carlos Carranza-Cruz, and Lawrence Lopez, according to court documents. 

Brownlee is scheduled to appear for arraignment in San Joaquin Superior Court shortly.

 

5:49 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

Man accused of shooting 7 people in California expected to be arraigned on Tuesday

From CNN's Jason Hanna and Nouran Salahieh

Stockton police show a brief video during a news conference on October 4 from a surveillance camera of what authorities described as a "person of interest" in the investigation into a series of killings.
Stockton police show a brief video during a news conference on October 4 from a surveillance camera of what authorities described as a "person of interest" in the investigation into a series of killings. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A man arrested in California over the weekend in connection with a series of killings – largely in the city of Stockton – is expected to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon.

Wesley Brownlee, 43, of Stockton, is scheduled to appear in San Joaquin County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. PT on Tuesday. The district attorney is expected to speak to reporters about the charges after the arraignment.

Brownlee was arrested Saturday, authorities said, in connection with seven California shootings that Stockton police believe are connected by ballistic evidence – the killings of five men in Stockton and one in Oakland, and the wounding of a woman in Stockton – from April 2021 to late last month.

Working off tips from the public, a surveillance team was following Brownlee as he drove around parks and dark places, “stopping, looking around and moving again,” McFadden said. The team watched his patterns and arrested him after they “identified that he’s posing a threat,” said the chief.

Brownlee was being held Tuesday in county jail without opportunity for bail on preliminary charges, including murder and carrying a loaded firearm in public, according to jail records.

4:49 p.m. ET, October 18, 2022

The suspect in a series of killings in Stockton was arrested when he was "out hunting," police say

From CNN's Andy Rose and Christina Maxouris

Authorities in California on Saturday arrested a man in connection with a series of killings that claimed the lives of six people.

The suspect, Wesley Brownlee, 43, was being followed by a police surveillance team who determined around 2 a.m. on Saturday he was “out hunting” and “on a mission to kill,” Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said in a news conference.

“His patterns were consistent with some of the patterns that we have seen,” McFadden said. “(He was) around parks, around dark places, stopping, looking around, moving again. And at that point, we thought, for the safety of the public, it was best to take this person in.”

Wesley Brownlee, 43, was taken into custody by police in Stockton, California.

Brownlee was wearing dark clothing, had a mask around his neck, and had a firearm when he was taken into custody, the police chief said.

“We are sure we stopped another killing,” the police chief said.

The suspect has a criminal history, McFadden said, but added he was unsure of the extent of what history or with which agencies.

The police chief did not share a motive in the killings.

Stockton police previously said they believe five homicides in the city between July 8 and Sept. 27 were related. All five victims were alone and were shot either in the evening or early morning hours, authorities have said. Four of the victims were Hispanic men ranging from 21 to 54 years old and the fifth was a 35-year-old White man.

And two predawn shootings from 2021 were also tied to the string of attacks, police said earlier this month: a fatal April 10, 2021, shooting of a 40-year-old Hispanic man in Oakland and an April 16, 2021, shooting in Stockton of a 46-year-old Black woman who survived.