A Long Beach gang member has been sentenced to life in state prison for his role in the murder of Armand Jones, a rising actor who had just wrapped filming Freedom Writers in March 2006 when he was gunned down in Anaheim.
Ironically, in the movie starring Hilary Swank, 18-year-old Jones played a gang member named Grant Rice who escaped a drive-by shooting that took the life of a friend.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals on Dec. 9 sentenced Charles Michael Reynolds, 29, to life in prison plus 25-years to life for first-degree murder with special circumstances and sentencing enhancements for street gang activity.
It was the same sentence Goethals imposed in October on co-defendant Stanley Miles Simons Jr., 25. Sentencing for another Long Beach gang banger, Yolanda Brown, 26, was continued, while co-defendant Jerrell Kelly, 22, and Nicholas Diogenes Valerio, 29, face trial next year.
Jones was at the Boogie nightclub in Anaheim on March 17, 2006, celebrating the last day of shooting the film inspired by the real-life experiences of Erin Gruwell (played by two-time Oscar winner Swank), who left the safety of her hometown of Newport Beach to teach at underachieving Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach. Along for the ride were Jones' friends, Giovanni Boyd and Dwayne Washington.
A group of nine or 10 followed Boyd and Washington into a restroom at the Denney's Restaurant next to the Boogie, robbing them at gunpoint of shoes, jewelry and cell phones. When Jones went inside to see what was going on, he was also robbed.
As the gang bangers fled, Jones and his friends gave chase through the restaurant and into the parking lot. A gun was fired back by their pursuers. Jones was shot once in the shoulder, but the bullet pierced through his chest. Bleeding, Jones staggered back into Denny's, collapsed and died. Ronnell Spencer, who had also been celebrating at the Boogie before hitting Denny's, ran outside because of the commotion. He was shot once in the head but survived.
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Simons was the first defendant to stand trial, and the first to be convicted in Goethals' courtroom in June.
Freedom Writers was released in 2007.