Defendants in robbery at La Jolla author's home deny charges - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Defendants in robbery at La Jolla author's home deny charges

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Four San Bernardino County men accused in a home invasion robbery last Friday at the La Jolla residence of food writer Jeanne Jones pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges.

Thomas Walter Clark, 41, Aaron Jacob Espinoza, 23, and Hector Guerra, 30, allegedly burst into the La Jolla Scenic Drive house the cookbook author shares with husband Don Breitenberg.

The fourth defendant, 23-year-old Miguel Ocegueda, drove the getaway vehicle, a yellow Nissan Xterra, Deputy District Attorney C.J. Mody alleged.

Around 6:30 p.m., a caretaker opened the door to a man who held a single rose and announced that he had a flower delivery for Jones, the prosecutor said.

"The individual handed her the flower with his left hand and hit her in the face with his right hand," Mody said. He then climbed on top of the fallen woman, who is in her 50s, and bound her with zip ties, the prosecutor said.

The woman told investigators that she saw two more men, at least one of whom was carrying a handgun, come into the residence. The three of them then ran upstairs -- straight to a bedroom where Jones, her husband, another caretaker and a safe were located, Mody said.

Jones, who was in bed after undergoing a medical procedure to prepare for knee surgery this week, was forced up at gunpoint to open the safe, the prosecutor said.

Mody said the men grabbed gold Rolex watches, rings and other jewelry and fled the house.

"This was a planned robbery, obviously, the way it went down," Mody said. "They thought this through. It was a very sophisticated crime."

A United Parcel Service driver made a delivery to the house at the same time as the robbery, and saw the armed men inside wearing ski masks, Mody said.

The driver was on the telephone calling 911 when the defendants ran from the house and got into the SUV when it pulled up, he said.

Police said a helicopter crew quickly spotted the vehicle, and officers pulled it over on state Route 52.

Ski masks and gloves were found along the side of the freeway, as well as inside the SUV, Mody said. Officers also found the handgun and property belonging to Jones in the vehicle, he said.

The value of the theft was well in excess of $30,000, he said.

The defendants are all charged with one count each of home invasion robbery, residential burglary, possession of stolen property, possession of a handgun, assault with a semi-automatic weapon and elder abuse.

Mody said detectives are continuing their investigation, so more charges could be forthcoming. They currently face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Judge Richard Whitney ordered the men held on $1 million bail and scheduled a status conference for Nov. 24 at the downtown courthouse.

Jones was not physically hurt during the robbery, and she is currently in a hospital recovering from her surgery, according to Mody.

The caretaker who was punched suffered a black eye and a 3-inch cut to her forehead that required stitches, he said.

There reportedly have been three thefts of jewelry from Jones' home in the past 16 months.

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