Los Angeles-to-Baltimore drug pipeline behind triple homicide in Porter Ranch, prosecutors say

Travis Reid was frustrated. Three packages of cash the Baltimore drug dealer had mailed to his cocaine supplier in Los Angeles had gone missing.

Out $377,000, Reid thought the supplier, Gary Davidson, was cheating him. “I was playing fair with y’all,” one of Reid’s associates recalled him saying. Davidson, the associate added, “wasn’t playing fair.”

Reid’s answer was to lure Davidson into a drug deal, execute him and steal 10 kilograms of cocaine to recoup his losses, Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila told jurors on Monday in closing arguments at a trial for murder and attempted robbery charges against Reid and a co-defendant.

Killed alongside Davidson, 39, in his Porter Ranch home the afternoon of Feb. 18, 2019, were Jesus Perez, 34, and Benito Vasquez Lopez, 46. Perez and Vasquez Lopez, who supplied the cocaine that Davidson thought he’d be selling to Reid, were gunned down because they were witnesses, Avila argued.

“It doesn’t get more violent, more personal, than the way they died,” he said.

An attorney for Reid, 44, conceded his client sold drugs and acknowledged he was at the scene of the crime, but argued it was an unidentified man from Davidson’s violent milieu who killed him.

“This is the drug game,” the attorney, Tony Garcia, told jurors. “Everybody’s got guns.”

Avila said that in 2017 the U.S. Postal Service began seizing kilograms of cocaine mailed from Chatsworth and Northridge to locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Postal inspectors also intercepted shipments of money mailed from Owings Mill, Md., a suburb of Baltimore, to the San Fernando Valley. Over a three-day period in 2018, Reid lost three packages of cash, totaling $377,000, Avila said.

Gregory Palmer, a street-level dealer in Baltimore who bought cocaine from Reid, testified that Reid blamed someone named Gary for $450,000 to $600,000 in losses. Reid said he needed guns and silencers, according to Palmer, who testified in exchange for leniency on robbery charges.

Prosecutors said Reid recruited a childhood friend, Kenneth Peterson, 45, to build the silencers. They presented records showing that Peterson, who lived in Durham, N.C., bought silencer components online and researched subsonic ammunition, which is quieter than standard rounds.

Aware that Davidson lived in a gated community, Reid knew he needed to kill him without making a lot of noise, Avila argued to the jury. If neighbors heard the shots, he’d never be able to escape.

Palmer testified he drove two handguns and two silencers in a rented Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Baltimore to Los Angeles, a drive that took two and a half days. He met Reid and Peterson at a Travelodge motel in Burbank, where they’d rented two rooms after flying into LAX. According to Palmer, Reid and Peterson put on latex gloves before loading the guns and fitting them with the silencers, which were homemade and fashioned from the tube-shaped handles of flashlights.

The next day, Reid and Peterson checked out of one of their rooms. A housekeeper found three live rounds of subsonic ammunition on the floor, along with blue latex gloves, Avila said. The manager called the police.

Reid and Peterson met Davidson at a shopping center in Northridge that afternoon. Believing he was going to sell Reid some cocaine, Davidson arranged for his suppliers, Perez and Vasquez Lopez, to bring the product to his home in Porter Ranch’s Renaissance gated community, Avila said.

Surveillance footage showed Davidson driving a Dodge minivan that Reid had rented through the complex’s security gate at 2:34 p.m., with Peterson beside him. Reid followed in Davidson’s Honda Accord.

Only the minivan would exit, 19 minutes later.

Avila said that based on the position of the bodies and other evidence inside the two-story, five-bedroom home, Davidson probably went into a bedroom with Reid to make what he thought would be the exchange. He died wearing the latex gloves he typically wore during drug deals, Avila said.

While Reid killed Davidson, Peterson held Perez and Vasquez Lopez at gunpoint in another room, the prosecutor argued. A woman who’d been sleeping upstairs heard several “popping sounds” and the noise of men screaming, Avila said.

All three men were shot in the head and chest. The house was littered with casings from subsonic ammunition of the same brand recovered from the motel room, Avila said.

“It’s all about the money,” he argued. “It’s all about the drugs. Anyone who gets in the way, they’re done.”

Surveillance footage from the Travelodge showed Reid and Peterson return to the motel, where a Burbank police cruiser was parked outside. An officer was inside the manager’s office, collecting the ammunition seized from their room.

In the garage of Davidson’s home, police found 2 kilograms of cocaine stamped with a “CAT” logo that resembled one found on Caterpiller brand heavy equipment. They discovered 5 more kilograms in the Toyota Camry that Perez and Vasquez Lopez had driven.

Avila argued that Reid and Peterson stole some of the cocaine and shipped it back to Maryland, showing the jury a video filmed by one of Reid’s street-level customers that shows a brick of cocaine stamped with the CAT logo.

Peterson’s attorney, Janae Torrez, argued that beyond his friendship with Reid, her client had no connection to the drug trade and its web of supply networks and violent men.

“Kenneth has nothing to do with this — nothing to do with this world, nothing to do with this intricacy of how things are moving,” she said.

Reid’s lawyer said no one but Palmer, a street dealer who was motivated to lie to lighten his prison sentence, described a dispute between his client and Davidson.

Garcia said that because the money seized by the Postal Service was Davidson’s — Reid was paying him for cocaine that had been extended on credit — it should have been Davidson who felt cheated by the losses, not Reid.

“We don’t know who pulled the trigger,” he insisted.

Closing arguments will continue Tuesday.

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