Accused killers plead not guilty in 20-year cold case - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Accused killers plead not guilty in 20-year cold case

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two men accused in the gang-related killing of a young mother who was gunned down in a car-to-car shooting at an Encanto intersection 20 years ago pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and other charges.

Jamar Phillips and Samuel David Sayles, both 37, were each ordered held on $2 million bail.

The defendants were arrested Tuesday in connection with the April 29, 1995, slaying of 18-year-old Crystal Odom, Lt. Paul Rorrison said.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. that day, Odom was driving near Wideman Memorial Park when a car containing five people pulled up alongside her vehicle at 65th and Akins streets. One of the occupants of the compact sedan opened fire, killing Odom with three bullets to the head and neck.

The Morse High School senior's boyfriend and her 10-month-old child, Aaliyah, survived the attack.

In court today, Deputy District Attorney Geoff Allard said both Sayles and Phillips admitted being at the scene that night, but neither defendant is suspected of firing from the car.

He alleged that Sayles was the driver, and said gunshot residue was found on the side of Sayles' car. The prosecutor did not address Phillips' alleged role.

Over the last two months, detectives received tips from the public that helped them identify Phillips and Sayles as alleged participants in the killing, according to Rorrison. More arrests in the cold case are expected, the lieutenant said.

Police have disclosed no suspected motive for the shooting, but Odom's mother, Gloria Jimenez, has speculated that the assailant may have been trying to target the victim's boyfriend over some past dispute, or perhaps was a gang member out to commit a random killing to gain criminal status.

The young couple had seen the sedan the shooter was in a few minutes prior to the ambush at a gas station at 69th Street and Imperial Avenue, and Odom's boyfriend recognized one of its occupants from school, according to Jimenez.

Though no words were exchanged, Odom -- an "A" student and ROTC member who planned to seek a career as a probation officer -- had gotten a "bad feeling" from the encounter and left without fueling up her car, the mother told reporters during a news conference last spring marking the two-decade anniversary of the murder.

A bail review is scheduled for next Wednesday. The defendants face a maximum of 29 years to life in prison if convicted.

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