LOS ANGELES (AP) — He would approach his victims as they went about their daily routines on the streets of Los Angeles, usually in the late evening or early morning. First he would shoot, and then he would steal whatever he could grab before fleeing.
Between November 2011 and December 2014, the man known as the "Western Bandit" shot eight people, killing two of them. He fired on many more. His only apparent motive, police said, was robbery.
For five years, the Los Angeles Police Department has been trying to track him down. On Monday, they announced they had their man at last.
Patrick Watkins, 51, was charged Monday with 53 counts that included murder, attempted murder, and assault with a firearm, among others. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
It wasn't clear whether Watkins had an attorney. He was expected to have his first court appearance on Tuesday.
"In some ways calling him a bandit doesn't begin to capture the fear and the actions of this man," Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference announcing Watkins' arrest. "He's a cold-blooded killer, somebody who terrorized the streets of Los Angeles for too long."
The latest of 23 crimes linked to the case was the fatal shooting of 56-year-old Larise Smith as he walked his dog on Dec. 8, 2014. The other killing linked to the case is the November 2011 fatal shooting of 32-year-old Cassidy Vickers.
Capt. William Hayes, who heads the department's elite Robbery Homicide Division, said the crimes were quickly linked because they had the same suspect description and all the victims were shot at before they were robbed.
"That's very unusual," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said. "And it speaks to the dangerous nature of this individual and why he so richly deserves to be in prison."
Beck said the same gun was used in all the cases and was recovered during Watkins' arrest Thursday at his apartment.
A forensic test on a piece of DNA evidence collected from one of the crime scenes matched Watkins and was the key to cracking the case, police said.
"That was the trigger point for us," Hayes said.
Detectives identified the piece of DNA evidence after going back over every crime connected in the case in a renewed effort to solve it, which included assigning it to a new unit.
Hayes said there was no apparent pattern in how the 35 victims in the case were chosen. Eighteen were men, 14 were women and three were transgendered.
"He came up to them randomly and attacked them," Hayes said. "He would walk up and begin shooting ... Obviously this is a horrendous crime that somebody would go up without giving people a chance to surrender."
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