A man suspected of opening fire on employees of a South Bay fast food restaurant, killing a shift leader and injuring two others, pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance Tuesday.
Albert Lee Blake, 49, was arrested Friday by the U.S. Marshals Service at a home in Memphis, Tennessee, in connection with a shooting at the Church's Chicken on Del Sol Boulevard near the U.S.-Mexico border on Nov. 6. He was extradited back to San Diego this week, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office said.
Blake was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, Deputy District Attorney Jalyn Wang said.
"As of right now, the way this is alleged, this is not a death penalty case," Wang said. "As it's charged right now, the maximum exposure is 114 years to life."
Blake pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday, and Judge Keri G. Katz set Blake's bail at $5 million, citing his flight risk and danger to the community.
Investigators said Blake pulled out a gun after employees refused to allow him to pay with a counterfeit $100 bill. Shots were fired from across the counter, and 28-year-old Maribel Ibañez, 51-year-old Mario Rojas and Humberto Ruiz were struck.
Witnesses said the suspect went in and out of the restaurant several times.
"After the shooting, he took off from the restaurant booking it. He was out that door as fast as he could get out of it," witness David Walker said.
Ibañez was pronounced dead at the hospital a few hours after the shooting.
"Now she’s in heaven, and he has to pay what he needs to pay," Ibañez's mother Emma Carla Merino said after Tuesday's court proceedings.
Police said the suspect took off in a dark blue sedan but after about a week of searching, an arrest had not been made.
Then, on Nov. 14, the San Diego Police Department issued a warrant for Blake's arrest.
Ibañez, a newlywed, died from injuries sustained in the shooting. Rojas was shot in the arm and stomach and has been in the intensive care unit since the shooting, his family said. Ruiz has since been released from the hospital.
Blake has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1989, including five prior felonies involving drug and weapons charges, court records obtained by NBC 7 show.
Blake also served four separate terms in state prison, the most recent in 2002 for a felony conviction of domestic violence, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed.
Blake’s three previous prison stays include a two-year sentence in 1990 for burglary and receiving stolen property, a 1992 incarceration for possession of a firearm by an ex-felon, and anohter in 1997 for possession of cocaine for sale, according to public records.
In 2016, Blake was sentenced to 270 days in county jail for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The judge ordered him to receive substance abuse and mental health counseling and prohibited him from associating with members of a dangerous San Diego county street gang, records showed.
He was recently sentenced again in February 2019 to one year in jail after being caught with a controlled substance, but Blake was released early.
Blake also has at least two drunk driving convictions and has been arrested at least three times for misdemeanor drug, alcohol and motor vehicle violations.
Blake's next court date is Dec. 19 for a status conference.