By Amy Louise Kazmin
(Los Angeles Times)
The family of a woman who was raped and murdered after being abducted from a Pasadena shopping mall has been awarded $3.5 million by an Alhambra Superior Court jury, which found that security at the facility was inadequate.
After about a day of deliberations, the jury decided Monday that the owners of Plaza Pasadena did not take sufficient steps to ensure customers' safety in the mall's vast underground parking lot. The jury also found that the lack of security was a direct cause of the crimes that led to the death of Lois Haro.
The 26-year-old college student, who planned to be a marriage and family counselor, was leaving the mall on Oct. 18, 1988, when two teen-agers confronted her at gunpoint in an escalator leading to the parking lot. She was taken to an area under Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge, where she was raped and then shot once in the head, detectives said.
Ronald Anthony Jones and George Marvin Trone Jr., now both 21, were convicted by Pasadena Superior Court juries of first-degree murder, rape, kidnaping and robbery. Jones was sentenced to death. Trone was sentenced to life in prison.
Attorney Rene Kern, who represented Plaza Pasadena, said an appeal of the decision is being considered. He denied that mall officials had skimped on security and said, "the best security program that could be put together" was provided.
"This is not a coldhearted, unthinking corporation," Kern said. "They are conscientious, and they make every effort to provide the best possible atmosphere."
Haro's husband, Tony, 27, said he and his wife's parents, Elsie and Herbert Purnell of Pasadena, sued Plaza Pasadena to force the management to upgrade security and to deter similar crimes. Ten months after his wife's murder, another woman was abducted at knifepoint from the parking lot and raped off the premises, Haro said.
"The whole point of this lawsuit was certainly not the money," he said. "It was for the mall to prevent other women from going through what my wife went through.
"Hopefully this will send a message to them to take security a lot more seriously than they have been, and that the people that come to their mall to shop are much more important than their profits."
Plaza Pasadena is owned and operated by H-CHH Associates, a general partnership, and Ernest W. Hahn Inc., a San Diego-based firm that owns at least 47 shopping malls across the country.
During the monthlong trial, the family's attorney, Suzelle Smith, said that in the years before Haro's kidnaping, the Plaza Pasadena parking lot was the scene of numerous crimes, ranging from purse-snatchings to car thefts, armed assaults, robberies and the 1982 murder of a 9-year-old girl.
Despite that, the two-level underground parking facility, which stretches under two city blocks, was patrolled by only a single guard, Smith said. Kern denied that, but refused to elaborate.
When the mall was built in 1980, the parking lot and the escalators leading into it were monitored by video cameras. However, the cameras fell into disrepair after about 1 1/2 years and were never fixed, despite the recommendation of the Pasadena Police Department, Smith said. One of the non-working surveillance cameras was located at the escalator from which Haro was abducted.
After the camera system broke down, Smith said, the mall's director of security wrote a memo stating that, to provide the same level of surveillance, he needed four guards patrolling the parking lot.
But, Smith said, the mall owners "had a budget for security. And that was all they were going to spend."
Kern, the mall's lawyer, said the management decided not to fix the video cameras because they were not as effective as "well-trained, conscientious security guards." As to the number of guards, the lawyer said, "there are enough. There were enough."
Unfortunately, he said, no matter what security precautions are taken, some crime is bound to occur.
"I'm not aware of an area of Los Angeles County that's crime-free," he said.