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Man sentenced for killing father who answered Craigslist cellphone ad

A 22-year-old man was sentenced in May 2016 for killing a father who answered a Craigslist ad to buy a cellphone for his son, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. 

Markell Thomas pleaded guilty a year earlier to one count of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Rene Balbuena, 41, as well as two counts of second-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

On Oct. 19, 2013, Thomas and Ryan Roth exchanged text messages with Balbuena and his 15-year-old son about buying a $300 Samsung Galaxy cellphone, according to LAPD Det. Chris Barling. 

Balbuena drove to the meeting location near the 9100 block of South Gramercy Place in Gramercy Park, and the father and son were ambushed, police said. 

Thomas and Roth demanded money from Balbuena, and Thomas, who was 18 at the time, jumped into the back seat of the car and pointed a gun at the son, Barling said. Balbuena then got out of the car and was shot by Roth, who was 17 at the time. Balbuena’s son also was hit by gunfire, the detective said, before Roth and Thomas fled on foot. 

Balbuena was taken to a hospital, where he died, according to coroner’s records. His son was treated and released, Barling said.

Detectives arrested Roth and Thomas a week after the shooting after discovering that the same Craigslist ad had been used in other robberies. The victims in those incidents gave descriptions that matched Thomas and Roth, Barling said.

Prosecutors charged both men with first-degree murder and several counts of robbery. Roth was charged as an adult. In a plea deal, Thomas pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to testify against Roth, prosecutors said.

Despite Thomas’ testimony, jurors acquitted Roth on Sept. 11, 2015, of robbery and murder charges in connection with the Balbuena killing. The jury, however, deadlocked on two counts of robbery from another incident involving two other victims.

On May 2, 2016, a retrial against Roth began. Ten days later, a jury found Roth guilty of the latter robbery charges. He was sentenced to 19 years and four months in prison.

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @jeromercampbell and @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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