Murder Trial for 2007 Altadena Shooting to Begin in March

Although her partner has already changed her plea to guilty, Mesha Arshaz Dean maintains that she shot and killed 32-year-old Monroe Miles in Altadena out of self-defense almost four years ago

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 2/11/2011

It's been almost four years since a 22-year-old woman's attempt to take back custody of her child led to her friend allegedly shooting a 32-year-old Altadena resident, and the trial is set to begin at last.
Mesha Arshaz Dean, now 26,  stands accused of shooting and killing Monroe Miles, 32, after she and Vanessa Marie Ochoa attempted to take Ochoa's child from his father's home in Altadena.  
Monroe Miles, the child's uncle, was chasing after the two women and attempting to stop them by force.  According to Dean's attorney, she plans to argue she shot Miles in self-defense as he was hitting her and trying to impede their escape.
Last Wednesday Dean appeared in LA Superior Court for a trial date scheduling and readiness hearing.  
Though Dean's fate is still up in the air, Ochoa has already accepted responsibility for the events of that day.
Though she originally pleaded not guilty, she changed her plea on May 20, 2010, to guilty on all three counts that they have both been charged with: kidnapping, endangering the life of a child, and murder. She will receive 14 years and four months in state prison when she is sentenced March 9, according to court documents.
Dean, though,  is the one who admittedly pulled the trigger that day, though she maintains that she did so out of self-defense. She will go to trial March 22, about a week after Ochoa has been sentenced and locked up. They are both currently being housed in the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood.
Though the relationship between Dean and Ochoa is not explicity spelled out in court documents, various media reports have described them as being romantically involved.
So what set this unfortunate chain of events in motion? Court documents indicate that on Sunday, March 18, 2007, Dean and Ochoa arrived at 4023 Canyon Dell Drive in northwest Altadena, the home of Ochoa's 4-year-old child's father, Mark Miles, who has custody of the child and was not home.
The child's grandfather let Ochoa in when she asked to see her son, Manaen Miles. She then grabbed the child and ran outside, where Dean was waiting in the driver's seat of her silver Nissan sedan, holding a loaded gun.
The boy's uncle, Monroe Miles, ran after Ochoa and recognized Dean.  According to later testimony by LA County Sheriff's Department Detective Elizabeth Smith, the boy's father and Monroe's brother, Mark Miles, told her in a conversation on the day of the murder and abduction that several months prior, Dean had shot him. The incident was never reported.
According to Dean, when Monroe saw her in the car, he yelled out, "Is that the bitch who attacked my brother?"
Smith testified at Dean's preliminary hearing that Ochoa tried to bargain with Mark Miles to keep him from reporting Dean to the police.
"Mark told me he refused to tell police who shot him," Smith testified. "Mark told me Vanessa told him he could have custody of (the boy) if he wouldn't tell police Mesha Dean shot him."
But despite that bargaining, the question of how to split custody of the child was never resolved.  During the preliminary hearing, defense attorneys brought up the fact that there was no official court order determining who had the legal right to custody of the child.
Dean told Las Vegas Channel 8 Eyewitness News reporter Alyson McCarthy in a jail interview that she feared for her life as Monroe got into the car after chasing Ochoa and the child out of his house and began punching Dean while Ochoa shielded her son with her own body as she climbed into the vehicle.
 She then admitted that was when she fired the gun at Monroe Miles, but said she thought her life was in danger.
Monroe Miles died about an hour after being shot in the neck and the back of the head. After the shooting occurred, Dean and Ochoa drove the child across state lines to their home in Henderson, Nevada.
They were arrested there a couple days later on March 20, 2007. An Amber Alert went out the night of the shooting, which helped Las Vegas police locate the women and take back the child, who was unharmed.
In her guilty plea, Ochoa also admitted the allegation that Dean was armed during the commission of the crime, as well as the fact that the victim of the kidnapping was under the age of 14 years and "was kidnapped with the intent to permanently deprive the father of custody of that child."
After the child was recovered, he was transferred to the care of his great uncle, Dan Mack, and his wife Sandra, until a family court hearing master requested the child's birth certificate in order to award full custody to his father, Mark Miles, who got his son back about a week later.
Nearly four years later, however, Dean's trial date has just been set. According to her defense attorney, Ed Murphy, this murder case has special circumstances.
"The normal time that a special murder case takes to go to trial is two to three years from the day of the shooting," Murphy told Patch. "So we're about a year late, right? The delay is certainly not a result of the defense requesting postponements. That's for sure."
Court documents indicate that both the original prosecuting attorney, Mary Murray, and the attorney who later replaced her, Tamu Usher, requested extension after extension for a variety of reasons, including waiting for DNA evidence to be analyzed.  In addition, Murphy was involved in several other murder trials that were already taking place.
Murphy estimates that the trial will take about five to six weeks.