Brothers charged in 1993 killings
For years, authorities knew they had the gun used to kill two men on successive nights in San Diego in 1993.
But they didn't know for sure who used it.
Now, with statements from witnesses who hadn't come forward before, authorities say they know who pulled the trigger: a former Navy sailor and convicted armed robber, who briefly escaped from a Mississippi jail after his arrest last year.
The investigations were reopened by cold-case detectives with the San Diego Police Department, the District Attorney's office and the U.S. Marshals Service. They are among detectives around the country who have been taking a look at old cases in hopes that further investigation will lead to convictions.
“Most of the other cases are based on DNA evidence or new technology,” said Deputy District Attorney Paul Kalivas. “This cold case is different in that it came about from witness statements – friends and hangers-on to suspects in this case.”
David Scaggs, 38, is in federal jail in downtown San Diego, accused of fatally shooting an enlisted man during a Jan. 16, 1993, robbery near an automated-teller machine on the San Diego Naval Base at 32nd Street.
He is also charged with being the triggerman in a City Heights killing in San Diego the next day, but that trial will follow the federal case.
His brother, Leonard Scaggs Jr., 39, also is charged with murder, as are two other men who served in the Navy with him and who authorities say were connected to a Chicago gang.
“They were gangsters before they went into the military or became gangsters while they were in the military,” Kalivas said.
After their military service, the young men stayed in San Diego.
One of the men, Maurice Overton, 34, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder this month in the slaying at the Navy base.
Overton admitted in federal court that he drove the getaway car.
Killed in that Saturday night robbery was Mark A. Smith, 23, an enlisted man from Florida, who had just taken $80 from the ATM and struggled with two men who tried to rob him at gunpoint shortly after 10 p.m., witnesses said.
Overton said the two men ran back to his car, and he drove away.
Although authorities say they are sure David Scaggs pulled the trigger, it is unclear what roles his brother and a third man, Jerwayne Balentine, played in that slaying.
Less than 24 hours after Smith was killed, Nathan M. Brown, 24, was walking along Oakcrest Drive near 50th Street in City Heights when he got into an argument with a group of young men, one of whom – authorities say it was David Scaggs – fired five to six shots from a gun.
Then, about 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, two men robbed a Coronado motel at gunpoint, threatening to kill a clerk, taking the contents of a cash register and ripping a telephone receiver off the wall.
As soon as they left, the clerk called police. An officer at the base of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge spotted a car that he suspected was connected to the robbery and followed it to Sherman Heights.
Overton was behind the wheel; David Scaggs and another man were passengers. All three were arrested.
Inside the 1977 Chevy Nova, officers found cash, a telephone receiver, ammunition and two guns, according to court files.
Forensic testing later that week indicated that one of the guns was used in the two killings.
David Scaggs said that the gun was his, but denied he was a killer.
“I don't know anything about a murder,” he told homicide detectives.
Overton, David Scaggs and the third man in the Chevy were convicted of robbing the Coronado motel and sentenced to state prison for varying terms.
Homicide detectives couldn't make a murder case in the 1993 killings.
“There was a lot of circumstantial evidence,” Kalivas said, but not enough. “How do we know he actually was the killer?”
In 2002, Balentine told a cold-case investigator that the City Heights shooting was “gang-related” and hinted that David Scaggs was the killer.
He asked detectives if they had the gun used in the City Heights shooting.
“Do you know whose gun it is?” Balentine asked, according to a court filing.
“Yes,” an investigator said.
“There it is,” Balentine said.
Last August, after more witnesses, including his brother, confirmed David Scaggs' role, San Diego investigators arrested him in Mississippi, where he ran a combination carwash, hair salon and barbershop.
David Scaggs said he and several others were walking down Oakcrest Drive when they came across Brown, and an argument broke out over gang membership, an investigator said in a court filing.
David Scaggs said he was arguing with Brown when his brother Leonard came up behind him and whispered in his ear, telling him to duck.
When he did, Leonard Scaggs punched Brown, knocking him backward.
David Scaggs said he then pulled out a gun and shot Brown, according to the court filing. He said he kept shooting until he ran out of bullets. He said he didn't want Brown to pull a gun on him first, though he said he hadn't seen Brown with a weapon.
After his confession, David Scaggs told district attorney's Investigator Robert Marquez and Deputy U.S. Marshal Keith Johnson that he watched “Cold Case” on TV every Sunday night while doing the books for his businesses.
“I knew you guys were going to come eventually,” he said, according to Kalivas, the prosecutor.
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