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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Darrell Smith

Alleged California serial killer charged with 3 Stockton homicides at court hearing

Wesley Brownlee was arraigned in a Stockton courtroom in the serial gun slayings that shook this city days after a weekend arrest that authorities say may have stopped another killing.

Brownlee, 43, sat and listened to the charges read by San Joaquin Superior Court Judge John Soldati, in a courtroom crowded with reporters and victims’ families for a case that set Stockton on edge and garnered national headlines.

In San Joaquin Superior Court, Brownlee was charged with three counts of murder for the deaths of Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who died Sept. 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died Sept. 27.

The other counts he faced Tuesday were suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition.

Stockton police say Brownlee is the man who gunned down six people in the city and his native Oakland, and riddled another with bullets aside railroad tracks in downtown Stockton. The female victim, Natasha Latour, survived her attack last year and has since come forward with her brush with death.

The other fatal victims were Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, who was killed in Oakland on April 10, 2021; Paul Yaw, 35, who was gunned down in Stockton July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who was slain in Stockton on Aug. 11.

Investigators’ probe into the shootings is ongoing. Stockton detectives, who were later joined by federal investigators, are still determining a motive for the killings. Brownlee’s previous criminal history consisted of mostly drug-related crimes out of Alameda County, as well as a number of traffic infractions in San Joaquin County, where Brownlee has long called home, court records showed.

At an afternoon news conference immediately after Brownlee’s arraignment, San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar told reporters the investigation is moving rapidly and more charges are coming, including the attempted murder of Latour who was shot in April 2021, which the DA referred to as a “special circumstance.”

Verber-Salazar said Brownlee is a truck driver who only recently moved to Stockton and prosecutors are also looking into hate crime charges.

“We believe without a reasonable doubt that we have the suspect in this case,” she said.

Verber-Salazar was joined by Stockton police chief Stanley McFadden and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms acting Agent-in-Charge Joshua Jackson.

McFadden said the weapon in police photographs was the one found on Brownlee, but would not say whether it was the murder weapon or whether it was a ghost gun.

When asked about Brownlee’s mental health status, Verber-Salazar would not comment.

For months, investigators worked to link the killings. They received their big break in early October. Ballistics tests tied a single weapon to the slayings while surveillance video of the shadowy figure dressed in dark clothing who walked with a pronounced gait drew more tips from the public.

Authorities announcing Brownlee’s arrest Saturday hours after his early morning capture credited the public with helping to find their suspect. Brownlee was arrested during a traffic stop Saturday morning near Panella Park at Village Green Drive and Winslow Way. That area is close to a home where Brownlee lived between 1999 and 2007. This was also within 2 miles of the five fatal incidents in Stockton.

According to public records, an apartment near Knickerbocker Drive and Tam O’Shanter Drive was Wesley Brownlee’s last known address. It is within several feet of one of the killings, that of Jonathan Rodriguez on Aug. 30, the only person shot inside a vehicle.

“There are some people who are too dangerous to share the streets with you and I,” Verber-Salazar said. “As a community, we suffered this reign of terror.”

Officials said they expect more charges to be filed against Brownlee before he returns to court for further arraignment on Nov. 14.


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