By Neal Putnam
After 18 years, the cold case homicide of a gay man was declared solved when his empty pants pockets were tested for DNA and it matched the DNA profile of a North Carolina man, who was then arrested for murder.
LeRay “Mac” Parkins, 71, a member of the choir at Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in San Diego, was found mortally wounded Aug. 23, 2000, and died three days later in a hospital.
His pockets were turned inside out, which indicated he was robbed, and was found in an alley behind 3675 Pershing Ave. in North Park. A woman who was collecting recyclables found Parkins at 8:43 a.m. He had suffered blunt force trauma to his head from a baseball bat.
District Attorney investigator Anthony Johnson asked the San Diego Police Department’s Forensic Biology Unit this year to test the empty pants pockets of Parkins for DNA, as his wallet was taken from him. He wrote that recent advances in forensic science might point to a suspect.
It did. The DNA match linked Edward Jamar Brooks, now 38, who is fighting extradition to San Diego from North Carolina and remains in jail there, according to DA spokesperson Steve Walker.
Brooks and two other men, Lester Roshunn Bell, now 38, and Terrence Maurice Brown, now 36, are also charged with murder along with the special circumstance of murder during a robbery. Bell and Brown were arrested in May in Colorado and Arizona respectively, and are also fighting extradition proceedings.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill reviewed an arrest warrant declaration by Johnson and issued a $2 million warrant for all three men on May 14.
“Mac had the most beautiful Irish tenor voice,” said senior MCC pastor, Dan Koeshall, who was the music director at the time. “It’s so sad when the most vulnerable of us are senselessly brutalized. May we be ever vigilant in looking out for each other.”
Lee Bowman, who is minister of communications for MCC, also said he remembered Parkins. “I’m glad that some justice may be finally coming for that senseless crime,” said Bowman.
Parkins often put his wallet in his front pants pocket, according to his partner at the time. The victim’s credit cards were used the same day of his murder at a clothing store and two service stations, and the bills were turned over to police by his partner.
His card was used twice at Mr. Rags, a clothing store in Escondido at the time. Follow-up interviews with a former cashier there provided a link to Bell and Brown. The former cashier said she was acquainted with Bell and she recalled him asking her if he could use someone’s credit card at the store.
The woman recalled Bell and Brown showing up with another man and they all purchased clothes for $53.87 and $169.17, according to court records. The cashier said she used to date Bell and he claimed he had permission from the credit card’s owner to use his card.
Police interviewed all three men about the slaying in 2001 when they were already in jail on other charges. Bell said he was present when Brooks hit Parkins with a baseball bat in the alley and he said Brown was the driver.
According to Bell, Brooks asked Parkins what time it was, and when he turned, he struck him in the head, causing him to fall to the ground. Bell recalled Brooks standing over Parkins and they hurried off. Bell said Brooks gave him a credit card that came from Parkins, according to court records.
A police officer who talked to Parkins in the alley said Parkins acknowledged being robbed. Parkins was in a coma for three days at Mercy Hospital and died without regaining consciousness or making any more statements.
When Brown was interviewed, he said he was not the driver, but did recall Brooks and Bell having someone’s credit card which was used at a North Park service station and at the clothing store.
Brown, who was living with Bell at the time in Spring Valley, told police that he saw two baseball bats in the trunk of the car they were driving, and they belonged to Bell. Two bats were seized as evidence in 2001, but no DNA or blood was found on them.
Brooks denied any involvement in the crime and said he was sleeping with a woman in El Cajon at the time. The woman was interviewed, but she said that didn’t happen. Brooks had been paroled from prison just seven days before he allegedly killed Parkins.
Johnson wrote in court records that Bell’s story is the most truthful because he implicated himself at the scene of the murder. No charges were filed against the men because authorities could not link them to the crime scene.
Another DNA profile was found in the pockets of the victim and it matched no known person, court records say. The victim’s pants were carefully preserved.
Walker said the DA’s office will continue to seek the trio’s extradition to San Diego. If they are convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance, they could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
— Neal Putnam is a local freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.