Chameleon Bandit convicted for 11 robberies

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A judge on Friday set an April 13 sentencing for the “Chameleon Bandit” after a jury convicted him of 11 robberies of tellers and one customer at two El Cajon banks and elsewhere.

Deputy District Attorney Lucille Yturralde said Darius Demon Lake, 29, of El Cajon, faces a maximum sentence of 125 years to life because he is a “third strike” defendant due to his prior convictions of robbing three banks.

A judge on Friday set an April 13 sentencing for the “Chameleon Bandit” after a jury convicted him of 11 robberies of tellers and one customer at two El Cajon banks and elsewhere.

Deputy District Attorney Lucille Yturralde said Darius Demon Lake, 29, of El Cajon, faces a maximum sentence of 125 years to life because he is a “third strike” defendant due to his prior convictions of robbing three banks.

The eight woman, four man jury deliberated 9 1/4 hours over three days before convicting Lake in San Diego Superior Court on Feb. 5. Judge Robert O’Neill set the sentencing date Feb. 9.

Lake got the nickname because of his changing appearances in robberies that occurred in October 2017.

The net loss to all six banks was almost $20,000.

Jurors deadlocked 6-6 on two robbery charges in which the tellers at U.S. Bank, at 2755 Navajo Road in El Cajon, could not identify Lake as the bandit. O’Neill declared a mistrial on those two counts.

Lake was convicted of robbing the Bank of the West, 1234 E. Main Street in El Cajon, on Oct. 5. He was also convicted of holding robbing two tellers and a customer at the Mission Federal Credit Union, at 760 N. Johnson, in El Cajon on Oct. 19.

The jury also convicted him of robbing two tellers at a Point Loma Bank, a teller at the Navy Federal Credit Union in Chula Vista, and the holdup of another credit union in San Marcos.

The jury saw a video Lake made with him posing with money scattered around in the back seat of a car minutes after the Chula Vista robbery.

“He’s proud of being the Chameleon Bandit,” said Yturralde in her closing argument. “He feels he earned it.”

On April 13, O’Neill will look at the federal sentencing documents from 2012 in which Lake was convicted of robbing three banks.  If he finds the convictions valid, this will confirm he is a “third strike” defendant that is eligible for multiple life terms.

The prosecutor may ask for a retrial on the two deadlocked verdicts.

Yturralde told jurors that Lake used the money to buy $180 lap dances, and purchases of jewelry and champagne. Jurors got to see bank camera videos, and the prosecutor noted a cursive tattoo on Lake’s neck was seen on bank camera photos.

His attorney, Jeremy Thornton, argued Lake did not commit any of the hold-ups and was only arrested because of his past bank robbery convictions.

Thornton showed photos of Lake’s wrist, which was heavily tattooed, and bank photos of the robber’s wrist, which did not show the tattoos.

The prosecutor, as a key piece of evidence, mentioned Lake’s palm print on a bank counter, but Thornton urged jurors not to consider it because he said it was altered.

Thornton argued that none of the witnesses recalled seeing his tattoos. Yturralde argued that witnesses were “frightened for their life” and Lake was moving too fast for them to focus on his tattoos.

FBI special agent Alex Esconde testified the series was called the “Chameleon Bandit” because “it looked like he was changing his appearance.”

The bandit wore a hard hat in only the first robbery, and different styles in clothing in later hold-ups, said Esconde.

Lake did not testify in the trial that began Jan. 25. He was also convicted of attempted robbery. He remains in jail on $500,000 bail.

Murder trial of Alpine man continues

The murder trial of an Alpine man went into its second week Feb. 12 involving the death of his girlfriend’s 18-month-old daughter in 2016.

Deputy District Attorney Chantal Demauregne told a nine man, three-woman jury she will ask them to convict Wiliey Kevin Foster, Jr., 28, of murder in the death of Leah Rose Brown-Meza and assault upon a child that ends in death.

The prosecutor acknowledged the girl’s mother, Lillie Golden Brown, 22, of Alpine, has pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment and will testify against her ex-boyfriend.

Foster’s attorney, Jan Ronis, told jurors not to believe Brown, saying, “She has a history of lying and of drug abuse.” He said the girl’s biological father “accused her of taking drugs and being an unfit mother.”

“People will say all kind of things to save their own neck,” said Ronis, adding that Brown “enters into this cooperating agreement…to testify against Mr. Brown.”

“He did not commit these crimes,” said Ronis.

In her opening statement Feb. 5, Demauregne told jurors and El Cajon Superior Court Judge Robert Amador that Lillie Brown found her daughter unresponsive on Dec. 6, 2016 in a mobile home in Alpine.

Foster and Brown, who had only been together six weeks, noticed the girl’s foot had “a very severe burn” from a space heater that was in the mobile home, said the prosecutor.

Brown noticed on Dec. 3 the girl had a limp left arm with bruising, but the couple sought no medical treatment. The arm was later found to be broken.

Demauregne told jurors Brown faces up to one year in jail with four years on probation and prison is ruled out. Brown remains free on her own recognizance pending her sentencing in May.

“Mr. Foster did nothing to the child. He certainly did not kill that child,” said Ronis. “He was very caring to Leah.”

Ronis said Brown did not check on the toddler for 14 hours prior to her discovery that she was dead. He said

Foster called 911 frantically.

Demauregne said investigators found baby wipes with Leah’s blood on them in the mobile home. She said Foster’s DNA was also found on the baby wipes.

She said Foster’s white tank top and his shorts also contained the girl’s blood.

Foster has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail on $2 million bail.

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