A story for every victim

Cause of death determinations: July to December 2010

Los Angeles County coroner's officials routinely provide The Times with a weekly list of deaths initially considered to be homicides.

Reporters follow up with the department to obtain additional information about each case and, in some cases, learn that the victim's cause of death has been deferred. This means the final determination on the mode of death is postponed pending additional laboratory tests. The death can later be ruled a homicide, suicide, natural or accident. The results usually are available within six to eight weeks.

The Homicide Report has followed up with the coroner's office on about 30 deferred cases from 2010. Here are their findings in cases in the final six months of 2010:

Jesus Hinostroza, a 44-year-old Latino, died Monday, June 7, in Hollywood. Ed Winter, a spokesman for the coroner's office, said Hinostroza was found at the Vine Lodge Motel and pronounced dead at the scene. Coroner's officials have since ruled his death as natural, citing a brain hemorrhage, coupled with drug intoxication, as the causes.

De Jon Merriex, a 2-month-old Latino baby, died Wednesday, June 9. He was found not breathing and taken to County-USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, authorities said. Coroner's officials have ruled De Jon's death a homicide, saying he died of suffocation.

Maria Portillo, an 83-year-old white woman, died Monday, Aug. 16, at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City. Officials said Portillo was taken from an unidentified convalescent home to the hospital after experiencing septic and liver shock. Coroner's officials said Portillo's death was ruled natural. She died from "idiopathic masses and hepatic necrosis," which is the death of living cells in the liver.

Joseph Jenkins, a 36-year-old white man, died Tuesday, Aug. 17, 15 years after he was shot and paralyzed in Bellflower. Coroner's officials said Jenkins died as a result of his spinal injury and his death was ruled a homicide.

Donnie Butler, a 51-year-old black man, died Thursday, Aug. 19, at the state prison in Lancaster. His cellmate admitted to investigators that he killed Butler by taking a torn bed sheet and strangling him. Coroner's officials said the victim died from asphyxia and his death was ruled a homicide. The cellmate is expected to be arraigned in connection with the death later this month.

Russell Rathert, a 50-year-old man, was found dead Tuesday, Aug. 31, in Valley Village. Firefighters responding to a call found a car engulfed in flames and discovered Rathert's remains in the rear of the four-door sedan. Coroner's officials said the case is still deferred.

Alois Nihswohl, an 84-year-old white man, was found dead at his home Wednesday, Sept. 1, in El Sereno. Firefighters arrived at the ransacked residence to find Nihswohl dead. According to preliminary coroner's records, he died from possible blunt-force trauma. Coroner's officials said Monday the case is still deferred.

Hanna Morcos, an 80-year-old Middle Eastern man, died during a home-invasion robbery Friday, Sept. 24, in Hawthorne. Investigators determined that Morcos died as the result of a heart attack. He had been assaulted with his hands bound behind his back with a window cord. Coroner’s officials said the stress from the battery led to his heart attack and his death was ruled a homicide. John Wesley Ewell has been charged in connection with Morcos' death and several other elderly people living in the area.

Warren Elam, a 60-year-old black man, died Monday, Sept. 27, a little more than five months after he was assaulted in Watts. Coroner's officials said Elam's death was ultimately ruled a homicide. He was pushed off a bicycle and assaulted with a glass bottle, officials said, and he suffered blunt-force trauma to the head. At the end of his life, Elam experienced bronchial pneumonia, which was a result of a subdural hematoma, or brain injury.

Jessica Ramirez, a 23-year-old Latina, died Monday, Sept. 27 after she was found unresponsive in El Monte. Ramirez was a quadriplegic, said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the coroner's office. She had been shot three years earlier, and it was believed her death may have been caused by complications from her gunshot injuries. Coroner's officials have since ruled the death as undetermined. It is unknown if the gunshot wound she suffered caused her death.

The charred body of a female, identified only as Jane Doe No. 62, was discovered Monday, Oct. 11, on Ridge Route in the Angeles National Forest. Firefighters putting out a small brush fire discovered a body in the smoldering ashes. Coroner's officials said Jane Doe No. 62 has yet to be identified, but her death was ruled a homicide. Although it is not clear what exactly caused her death, her remains were charred and bound. Tests show the victim had coronary artery sclerosis, or fatty buildup inside the arteries. There also were traces of cocaine in her system

A newborn white baby boy, identified by coroner's officials as John Doe No. 197, was found dead Monday Nov. 8, in Studio City. Authorities said the baby's death was ruled a homicide. He died from "probable asphyxia" or other undetermined causes. The baby was delivered without medical attention and placed in a trash can after birth.

Amanda Cooper, a 10-year-old Latina, died Saturday, Nov. 27, in Del Aire. Authorities found the girl unresponsive at a home and she was taken to the hospital. Emergency room doctors said Amanda’s body showed evidence that she had been sexually assaulted, a possibility also noted in the coroner’s records. The coroner's office has placed a security hold on the case and said they are unable to provide further information about the cause of death.

Sue West, a 93-year-old white woman, was found dead at her home Saturday, Dec. 18, in North Hollywood. Preliminary coroner's records show West may have died from elder abuse. Officials said Monday the case is still deferred.

Joe Ward, a 67-year-old black man, died Wednesday, Dec. 22, after he was found in his home in Lynwood. Ward had signs of decubitus, or bed sores, all over his body, according to preliminary coroner's records. Officials said he was taken to St. Francis Medical Center, where he died. Coroner's officials said Monday the case is still deferred. Investigators said they are waiting on lab results to decide whether to pursue the case as a homicide.

-- Sarah Ardalani

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