Man ordered to stand trial for murder in nurse's bus stop killing
LOS ANGELES - A man accused of fatally striking a 70-year-old nurse in the head in an unprovoked attack caught on surveillance video at a downtown bus stop was ordered Monday to stand trial on murder and assault charges.
Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta rejected Deputy Public Defender Julianne Prescop's request to dismiss the murder charge against Kerry Bell, now 49, stemming from the Jan. 13, 2022, attack on Sandra Shells.
The judge said he viewed what had happened to Shells as a "coldcock," not a slap to the head as characterized by the defense attorney.
"She had no idea what was coming," Ohta said.
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The nurse — who was waiting to catch a bus to her job at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center when she was struck at about 5:15 a.m. at a bus stop at Vignes Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, near Union Station — fell and struck her head on the concrete.
She died Jan. 16, 2022 at the hospital, where she had worked for 38 years.
Antonio Campos testified that he hadn't seen the woman bother anyone and that he rushed to her aid and performed CPR after the woman, who had taken the same transportation he had for years, fell to the ground in the well-lit transportation plaza.
When Deputy District Attorney Brian Kang asked if it appeared that Shell's life was in danger, the first witness called by the prosecution said, "Yes. Because I saw her falling, hitting her head ... She was on the floor motionless, bleeding from her head."
Campos identified the defendant in court and said he didn't hear Bell or Shells say anything. He said he saw the assailant wearing what looked like bags on his shoes, and that he heard someone who sounded scared telling the man to stop.
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Joseph Murphy said officers were able to retrieve a still photo that showed the alleged suspect and said Bell was tracked down to a platform at Union Station, where he was taken into custody at about 6:45 a.m. that day.
Dr. John Gruen, a neurosurgeon at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center who testified that he frequently rode a shuttle bus from Union Station to the hospital with the nurse, said he operated that day on Shells in an effort to save her life. But he said he didn't expect her to ever regain consciousness given the severity of her injury, which he said was not visible externally.
She was subsequently declared brain dead and taken off of life support, he testified.
Bell was initially charged with murder, with the prosecution subsequently filing a second count — assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury — against him last September.
Bell is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment April 10.
"Your honor, first of all, I do want to acknowledge that this was a horrible tragedy," Bell's attorney told the judge, adding that the "question is whether or not this was a murder" and suggesting that her client was "not mentally healthy" at the time.
The prosecutor countered that the nurse was vulnerable because she was older, not as big as the defendant and was "taken by complete surprise" in a location where she was not expecting to be hit.
Bell has remained behind bars in lieu of $2 million bail since his arrest.
Shortly after the woman's death, the hospital announced the creation of a memorial fund to benefit Shells' family. The Sandra Shells Memorial Fun was also aimed at helping "other families who have been affected by or have fallen victim to violence," according to the medical center.
Hospital officials noted that Shells would often arrive early in the morning before her shift so she could sit in the locker room and read her Bible.
"LAC+USC Medical Center family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support received in the wake of Nurse Sandra Shells' passing," according to a hospital statement. "We are grateful to those who have paid tribute to Ms. Shells by extending their condolences, sending flower arrangements, and posting heartfelt messages on social media. We appreciate your sentiments and we thank you for sharing in our sadness."