10:26 PM PST on Thursday, November 20, 2008
Four Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and other charges filed in connection with the execution-style shooting deaths of a fellow Marine and his wife.
Judge John Monterosso entered not guilty pleas for Lance Cpl. Tyrone Miller, 20, Lance Cpl. Emrys Justin John, 18, Pvt. Kevin Darnell Cox, 20, and Lance Cpl. Kesaun K. Sykes, 21, during a court hearing in French Valley.
On Oct. 15, Sgt. Jan Pietrzak, 24, and his wife, Quiana Jenkins-Pietrzak, 26, were found shot in the head inside their Winchester home.
All four defendants are charged with crimes making them eligible for the death penalty, however the Riverside County district attorney has not decided whether he will ask for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
John, a native of Baltimore, is charged as the shooter. He is the only man charged with personal use of a gun, court records show.
His mother and other relatives attended the hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley. The news of John's arrest has shocked the family and the people he grew up with in Baltimore.
"There is no way that you can make me believe this is true," said John's cousin, Kenneth Williams, 43, outside the courtroom. "He would not do it. . . . If this happened, it was because he was forced or gullible."
Williams said John is an intellectual, raised in a Christian family and proud to be a Marine.
"He's so book smart that he's nerdy," Williams said. "He's not even street smart. . . . He's always been a perfect child, a role model."
Williams said he does not know much about the case beyond what he once read online.
Three of the defendants told investigators that they went to the Winchester home to rob the Pietrzak, according to court records. Miller and John discussed the idea of killing the couple while at their home, according to documents filed in support of an arrest warrant. Miller told investigators that John was the shooter, according to the court records.
During his interview with authorities, John said he and Miller had guns when they went to the Pietrzak home, the records state. John ended the conversation with authorities without saying more, according to the court records.
In the barracks where Cox and John were housed, authorities found shoes that match impressions found at the Winchester home, according to the court records. Some of the victims' belongings were found at Sykes' home, the records say.
The men were also charged with an enhancement of sexually assaulting Jenkins-Pietrzak.
All four defendants are being held in Riverside County jail and are ineligible for bail.
Their next court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 15.
Reach Tammy J. McCoy at 951-375-3729 or tmccoy@PE.com