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Suspected LA serial killer of homeless men denied bail in first court appearance

Jerrid Joseph Powell appears at an arraignment at Los Angeles superior court on Monday (AP)
Jerrid Joseph Powell appears at an arraignment at Los Angeles superior court on Monday (AP)

A suspected Los Angeles serial killer has been charged with the murders of four homeless people and denied bail in his first court appearance.

Jerrid Joseph Powell, 33, who was arrested last week, was charged with four counts of murder and one count each of residential robbery and possessing a firearm.

Mr Powell made his first appearance in Los Angeles court on Monday afternoon along with his attorney, deputy public defender Carlos Bido, but did not enter a plea.

After being initially arrested for a deadly shooting during a robbery, the Los Angeles resident was later identified as a suspect in the back-to-back killings of three homeless men and a county employee in the span of four days.

Mr Powell briefly appeared in court in a yellow prison jumpsuit, as his arraignment plea was postponed until 8 January.

"As with each client, our office will pursue a vigorous defence on behalf of Mr Powell and hold the prosecution to its burden of proof. According to the tenets of our criminal legal system, Mr Powell remains presumed innocent until proven otherwise," the public defender’s office said in a statement.

In a case that has sent shockwaves through the homeless population of the city, Mr Powell is suspected of killing people as they slept on the sidewalks in Los Angeles.

The deaths prompted authorities to issue public warnings over an apparent “serial killer” targeting homeless people in downtown Los Angeles, urging people to be on high alert for a killer “preying on the unhoused”.

The first death was reported on Sunday 26 November when Jose Bolanos, a 37-year-old homeless man, was found dead with a gunshot wound at 3am in an alley in South Los Angeles.

The following day, Mark Diggs, 62, was shot and killed at 5am while he was pushing a shopping car near downtown, officials said.

Police chief Michel Moore described the first killing as “brutal and ruthless” and said the second was “chilling” with video footage showing the “coldblooded” murder.

The third shooting of a homeless person happened on 29 November at around 2.30am in the Lincoln Heights area, when a 52-year-old man was found dead on a sidewalk where he had been sleeping. The victim has not been identified.

And a day earlier in the evening, Nicholas Simbolon, 42, a county employee, was shot dead at his home in San Dimas, a killing and robbery that led to Mr Powell’s arrest.

Surveillance images of a suspect vehicle were obtained by authorities. The subsequent night, a licence plate reader in Beverly Hills alerted the police, leading to a traffic stop that ultimately resulted in Mr Powell’s arrest on 30 November.

Mr Powell is accused of following Simbolon to his home and robbing him before shooting him dead.

"I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the incredible men and women of law enforcement who worked tirelessly to bring justice to our community and arrest this individual," District Attorney George Gascón said in Monday’s statement. "The swift actions of law enforcement undoubtedly saved lives this week."

If convicted on all charges, Mr Powell faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The cases prompted LA authorities to deploy more than 300 people from the city department, housing service providers and other agencies to warn people against the suspected serial killer.

Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass said: “Seek shelter, seek services, stay together, seek support.”

The killings have put focus on the dangers faced by homeless people in the country. Los Angeles County, which is the country’s most populous with about 10 million people, was home to more than one in five of the nation’s homeless people, according to a 2022 federal tally.

As of January, the last official count, more than 75,000 people were homeless across the county on any given night.

On Friday five homeless people were shot in Las Vegas, one of them fatally. Las Vegas police said in a news release on Monday evening that they were aware of the shootings in Los Angeles and "ruled out any correlation."