A jailed former prostitute with a plea deal in the 2012 homicide of an affluent Monte Sereno man testified today in the trial of a gang member charged with murder whose lawyer sought in vain to strike potentially incriminating statements from the record.
Members of a jury in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose sat in rapt attention as Katrina Fritz described her 12-year relationship with 66-year-old Raveesh Kumra prior to when he choked to death during a robbery of his Monte Sereno home on Nov. 29 and Nov. 30, 2012.
Fritz admitted that she knew in advance of and assisted in plans by her brother DeAngelo Austin to rob Kumra’s home, where she said she had been to “hundreds, thousands” of times since 2000 with “a combination” of men and women to be paid money by Kumra for sex.
Fritz, who has been in the county jail since her arrest in Kumra’s murder in February 2013, is testifying for the prosecution in the trial of Oakland gang member Marcellous Drummer, who has been charged along with Fritz and two other men in Kumra’s murder.
She testified in September in preliminary hearings against her brother and Javier Garcia, who are being tried separately in the Kumra murder-robbery, and in Drummer’s preliminary hearing on the charges in May.
Prosecutors claim that with Fritz’s help from afar by phone, the three men, all Oakland gang members, invaded Kumra’s home, tied and gagged him, beat up and tied his wife Harinder, then stole cash, jewelry, valuable coins and other items from their home after Kumra had suffocated from the duct tape over his mouth.
A police officer from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department testified in May that when officers executed a search warrant at Drummer’s home after the robbery, they recovered a vintage Louis Vuitton purse and a gold bracelet allegedly missing from the Kumra home.
On Sept. 18, prosecutors offered Fritz a deal in which she agreed to plead guilty to robbery and false imprisonment felonies with gang enhancements but would serve no more than 17 years in prison if she were to testify fully and truthfully against her three co-defendants at their trials.
Under questioning today by Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith, Fritz admitted entering into the plea deal to no longer be charged with murder, thus avoiding a potential sentence of life in prison.
She told Smith that after serving as a witness in the trials, she expects to request a judge to sentence her to serve less than 17 years.
Smith had Fritz, who later will face a cross-examination by Drummer’s lawyer James Blackman, admit on the stand to being a longtime prostitute in San Francisco and Oakland and lying on a number of occasions to Kumra, her brother, police and the Alameda County Superior Court in order to obtain money.
She began seeing Kumra in 1999, while serving as a street prostitute with a pimp in San Francisco but in 2000 quit the pimp to do sex work on a frequent basis for Kumra, meeting him at his house or at the Los Gatos Lodge hotel in Los Gatos, she said.
But their relationship had cooled in late 2011 and she did not see him at all in 2012, she testified.
She said that one day after Thanksgiving Day in November 2012, Austin, who has a lengthy criminal record since he was a juvenile, phoned and told her that “he was thinking about going out there” to Kumra’s home, which she said she knew meant “that he was going to go to rob him” because “that’s pretty much what he always goes to jail for.”
Fritz admitted that, after trying to convince her younger brother not to, she finally told him that Kumra probably kept money and valuables at the Monte Sereno estate, then gave him driving directions, a diagram of the layout of the home and told him how to sneak in through a door from the garage.
Judge Michele McCoy allowed the jury out early and Fritz’s testimony will resume Wednesday when she will speak more to Drummer’s alleged involvement in the murder-robbery, Smith said.
After the jury left, McCoy heard arguments from Smith and Drummer’s lawyer Blackman about statements made by Fritz to investigators about Drummer that Blackman wanted kept out of the case as hearsay.
Fritz said that Drummer allegedly stated to her “I was just sitting there” while Kumra was tied up at the Monte Sereno home and that after assuring her that they “got rid of everything” taken from the home, Drummer reassured her by saying “don’t trip,” or become fearful they would be caught.
McCoy overrode Blackman’s objections and allowed Fritz’s recollections of conversations with Drummer to be used by the prosecution before the jury.
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