Handyman confesses to killing L.A. bishop, authorities say

A 61-year-old man who prosecutors have admitted to killing Bishop David G. O’Connell was charged Wednesday with murder in the shooting death of the much-vaunted religious leader.

Carlos Medina, a handyman whose wife worked as a housekeeper for the bishop, also faces a specific allegation of using a firearm during the crime, Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascón announced this at a press conference on Wednesday. If convicted, he faces 35 years in prison.

In detailing the charges, Gascón said Medina admitted to the murder to investigators.

“I know this was a shock to our community,” Gascón said. “This was a brutal act of violence against a person who gave his life to make our neighborhoods safer and healthier and has always served with love.”

Medina is accused of killing the 69-year-old priest on Saturday at his home in Hacienda Heights, where he lived alone.

“His loss is one that I really believe will be felt for years to come,” Gascón said. “The charges brought against Mr. Medina will never undo the enormous damage caused by this callous act.”

O’Connell was found dead in his bedroom on Saturday with multiple gunshot wounds, Gascón said.

In an interview, Gascón said O’Connell was probably asleep when the shooting took place.

“In every way Bishop O’Connell was a saint for Los Angeles,” he said.

Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said the firearm was a small-caliber weapon and that O’Connell’s wounds were not clearly visible to the deacon, who first discovered the bishop’s body.

According to the sources, the bishop was shot five times.

Neighbors said they didn’t hear any gunshots or unusual noises from the house until deputies and paramedics arrived in the quiet neighborhood just before 1pm on Saturday.

Medina was taken into custody at his home in Torrance on Monday after barricading himself for some time. Inside, investigators recovered two firearms, including a .38 caliber handgun that detectives suspect killed O’Connell, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Investigators were led there two days after the killing, aided by a tipster who told officers that Medina had been acting strangely since the murder, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday after announcing the arrest had.

Surveillance video also showed a “dark, compact SUV” — believed to be owned by Medina — at O’Connell’s home around the same time the murder took place, Luna said.

Medina appeared briefly in court Wednesday afternoon, where Judge Armenui Amy Ashvanian posted bail of $2.3 million.

A Spanish language interpreter transferred the court case to Medina, but he did not speak during the brief court appearance.

His indictment was set for March 22.

Officials have yet to disclose what may have motivated the killing. After announcing Medina’s arrest, Luna, the tipster who referred law enforcement to the suspect, said Medina claimed the bishop owed him money related to his work as a handyman.

Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Modica said that when questioned by Medina, he gave multiple reasons for the murder, but “none of them made sense to investigators.”

“We don’t think there’s any value in owing money,” he said, referring to the tipster’s suggested motive.

Los Angeles County public defender Ricardo Garcia said in a statement to The Times that Medina “is presumed innocent and is entitled to a vigorous defense.”

“We are sensitive to the impact this case has had on our community, but at the same time caution against making any hasty judgments, whether by the public or the media, until all facts are settled in court,” the statement said .

Deputy Public Defender Pedro Cortes, who has been hired to represent Medina in court, did not respond to a request for comment.

Medina has a long history of arrests and convictions for personal drug use from 2005 to 2017, and detectives are investigating whether he was using narcotics at the time of the murder, law enforcement sources say.

Medina was arrested on narcotics charges in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2017, according to police officers who are not authorized to discuss his criminal record. At least two of the convictions were for drug possession, but Handyman had no history of violent arrest.

In the unincorporated Torrance neighborhood, where Medina and his wife rent a two-bedroom yellow stucco house, neighbors said the couple lived quiet, ordinary lives and had been kind to their neighbors.

“He never said anything offensive,” said Francisco Medina Lopez, 74, a neighbor who said he was friends with Medina. “It’s so weird.”

Medina, who had a limp, was often seen tinkering with his cars or working in his yard, neighbors said. His wife was a neighborhood fixture, often spotted walking a large white dog that residents said belonged to the bishop.

The two neighbors occasionally drank beer or ate together, chatted, and listened to ranchera music.

Although Medina’s wife worked for the bishop, Medina Lopez said the couple did not appear particularly religious and did not mention it in conversations or decorate their home with Catholic objects and images.

But Medina Lopez said he always thinks well of his neighbor, who sometimes drives him to the swap meet or to nearby shops.

“He was your average older man, always talkative and in a good mood,” said Luis Lopez, who lived in a house behind the Medina’s house. “He was just a normal man.”

After news of the bishop’s death broke, about a dozen people stood with candles and prayed the rosary on Saturday near police cordon tape near his home.

O’Connell, who received the title of bishop in 2015, is a “peacemaker with a heart for the poor and immigrants,” Archbishop Jose H. Gómez of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement Sunday.

“He had a passion for building a community in which the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected,” Gómez said in the statement. “He was also a good friend and I will miss him dearly. I know we all will.”

Born in County Cork, Ireland, O’Connell studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College, Dublin and was ordained in 1979, according to the Archdiocese.

He has been an associate pastor in several Los Angeles parishes, including 14 years at St. Frances X. Cabrini in South Los Angeles. He then became pastor of Ascension, where he oversaw a church of about 4,000 families and two schools with about 500 students.

In the neighborhoods he served, he was known as a reassuring mediator, particularly after the 1992 riots. The Catholic News Agency reported at the time that O’Connell, not yet a bishop, was working to strengthen trust between police and the South community – restore LA.

He also served as founder and chair of the interdiocesan SoCal Immigration Task Force, which assisted children who entered the United States without adult companions.

“He was the help of the helpless and the hope of the hopeless,” Los Angeles Borough Superintendent Janice Hahn said Monday during an emotional news conference.

Gómez fought back tears and his voice broke Monday as he called O’Connell “a good friend from Los Angeles.” He remembered the bishop’s fluent Spanish with an Irish accent.

“Every day he wanted to show compassion to the poor, the homeless, the immigrants and all those who live on the margins of society,” Gómez said. “He was a good priest and a good bishop and a man of peace.”

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