Hazardous Waist

Charles Ray George thought an OC stripper would cost him $150. She cost him his life.

During the week after the killing, Parra and Nava fled north in their Hyundai. They first told friends George attempted rape; later, they'd say George had succeeded. They were clueless that OCSD detectives executed 13 countywide search warrants in the case and were methodically closing in on not only their identities but also their soon-to-be hideout location.

A paper trail revealed Parra's half-Chinese, half-Latino heritage; his Gulf War service in the Air Force; his studies at a Cerritos community college; his divorce from a marriage that produced a son; his work as a bouncer at a Los Angeles bar; his 1997 arrest and acquittal on weapons charges; and his violence-prone escort operation run from an office on Bellflower Boulevard. In one instance, Parra threatened and then sprayed a can of Mace into the face of a disappointed customer who tried to get Parra's license-plate number.

The detectives also learned about Parra's relationship--at times, romantic--with Nava and that he'd recently purchased a Hyundai like the one used by the suspects in the George murder. Parra listed his ex-wife, Mary Jane Parra of Shasta County, as a reference on his credit application at the Huntington Beach dealership. Tipped by the OCSD, deputies in Shasta County drove by the ex-wife's trailer-park home and found the Hyundai. The unwitting woman soon learned that police wanted her ex-husband and Nava for murder.

"We surrounded the trailer with Shasta County deputies and used a bullhorn to tell Parra and Nava to come out," said Vining, who found $2,000 hidden in Nava's shoe during the arrest. "We surprised them, but they eventually came out and invoked their Fifth Amendment privileges."

Parra and Nava had lived as fugitives for only eight days.

Deputy DA Murray is a West Point graduate married to an FBI agent. He's arguably the most hard-charging county prosecutor in Orange County. In a courtroom, he impresses judges with his memory, captivates juries with his oratory and frightens murder defendants with his passion. He defeated famed defense attorney Leslie Abramson in a Vietnamese-gang double-homicide trial earlier this year. Murray had no sympathy for Nava or Parra, whom he mocked as low-life con artists willing to do anything for "the almighty dollar."

But Murray had a problem. Some prosecutors thought Parra should be charged with second-degree murder and Nava shouldn't face any charges. After all, Parra hadn't premeditated murder and Nava hadn't even touched George. In fact, after her arrest in Shasta County, another Orange County prosecutor then supervising the case freed the stripper. The original prosecution theory was simple: Nava responded to George's call, danced, legitimately took her fee and fled with Parra's lethal if unnecessary assistance. Using this scenario, Nava wasn't culpable and Parra faced prison time with parole possibilities if convicted.

To Murray, however, both Parra and Nava committed first-degree homicide. Killing a person--even accidentally--while committing a serious crime such as robbery is felony murder under California law. Using this statute wasn't far-fetched. In their investigation, Vining and Salcedo discovered that a string of Parra's clients had been threatened, beaten and extorted over the years. The detectives and Murray concluded the escort service was essentially a burglary/robbery operation in disguise.

"Parra targeted his victims," said Murray. "How do we know he intended to steal? It all goes back to his business practices. It's a scam. It's nothing but that."

Detectives found evidence that:

*A Parra employee accepted money for sex from a man, then said she needed to put the cash in her car for safekeeping but returned with Parra, who displayed handcuffs and voiced threats before fleeing with the man's money.

*Two Vietnamese brothers staying at an Orange County hotel gave a Parra stripper $200 for sex, and then watched as she quickly sped away in a truck driven by Parra.

*A customer suspicious of a Parra escort tried to cancel his appointment only to have a handcuff-toting Parra arrive and threaten to call police if he didn't pay additional sums he called a "cancellation fee."

*Nava visited the Orange County hotel room of an out-of-town businessman and got $150 for a dance and additional sums for promised sex before calling Parra, who entered the room, broke the client's jaw with a flashlight, emptied a can of pepper spray in his face and stole his laptop computer.

On Murray's orders, deputies re-arrested Nava as part of a criminal enterprise that killed George.

The trial focused on a few questions: Was Nava's stripper ad selling legal entertainment, illegal sex or simply the allure of intimacy? Or was it a clever vehicle for thieves to enter houses, apartments and hotel rooms of unsuspecting men?

George Douveas, deputy alternate defender for Nava, wasn't amused by law enforcement's conclusions. Douveas called Murray's case "novel and creative" and his logic "legal gymnastics." He asked: If Parra and Nava were crooks, as the prosecutor alleged, why didn't they steal George's wallet containing $312, his checkbook and a gold ring laying on a table?

Murray had an answer. He claimed the defendants didn't have time to steal on that occasion because they'd caused a commotion in the apartment complex by beating George to death. According to the prosecutor, burglary is committed when a person enters a dwelling merely with the intention to steal.

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