Suspect in West LA Jewish shootings pleads not guilty

A 28-year-old man suspected of shooting two Jewish men after they left synagogues in the Pico-Robertson district less than 24 hours apart pleaded not guilty Thursday in Los Angeles to federal hate crime and firearms charges.

Jaime Tran, previously of Riverside, will remain in federal custody with an April 11 trial date, according to a magistrate judge in federal court.

Tran faces two hate crime counts for allegedly willfully causing bodily injury and attempting to kill his victims and two counts of discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

If convicted, Tran would face up to life in prison for each hate crime count, and between 10 years and life for each firearms count, prosecutors noted.

According to his indictment, Tran developed and espoused antisemitic beliefs and made violent threats toward Jewish people. For example, in 2018, he left dental school after making hate-filled statements about other students whom he perceived to be Jewish, the indictment states.

From August to December, Tran's antisemitic statements escalated and used increasingly violent language, including against a former classmate whom he repeatedly called and texted with messages such as "I want you dead, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew" and "Burn in an oven chamber," the indictment alleges.

In November, Tran allegedly emailed two dozen former classmates a flyer containing antisemitic propaganda, including a statement blaming the COVID-19 pandemic on a Jewish conspiracy.

Tran allegedly acquired at least two firearms before the attacks and performed internet searches for "kosher markets" to learn areas where Jewish people congregate.

At about 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 15, Tran allegedly drove to the Pico- Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles, located a man who was wearing a black jacket and yarmulke and had just left religious services at a synagogue. Tran allegedly shot him in the back at close range, intending to kill him. Though wounded, the man survived.

The following morning, Tran returned to the Pico-Robertson area, intending to kill another Jewish person, according to the indictment. At about 8 a.m., he allegedly approached another man wearing a dark-colored jacket and yarmulke. Tran allegedly shot and wounded that victim, who also survived the attack.

In a Mirandized, recorded interview, Tran acknowledged having intentionally shot the two victims, according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant.

After the shootings, based on a description of the suspect's vehicle, Tran was traced to Riverside County. He was arrested when Cathedral City police responded to a report of a man who had fired a gun and was carrying a weapon near his car, according to the affidavit.

Detectives recovered several items of evidence -- including an AK- style rifle and a .38-caliber handgun consistent with the weapon believed to have been used in the shootings, according to the affidavit.

At the time of the shootings, Tran was free on $30,000 bond on a felony charge of possessing a weapon on school grounds -- for allegedly carrying a gun on the campus of Cal State Long Beach last July, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tran has been in federal custody since his Feb. 17 arrest on the criminal complaint in the case.