A man accused of killing his girlfriend in her South Los Angeles apartment pleaded not guilty Thursday to an amended criminal complaint that added a special circumstance allegation to the murder charge he was already facing — a departure from District Attorney George Gascón’s policy eschewing such enhancements.
Darryl Lamar Collins, 51, of Baldwin Park, is due back in court July 21, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.
Collins is accused of killing his 53-year-old girlfriend, Fatima Johnson, who was found in July 2021 by her daughters — bound, gagged and wrapped in a blanket — in her apartment in the 7600 block of South Western Avenue.
Her family called paramedics, who pronounced her dead at the scene.
Collins was charged with murder, but the case only included allegations that he had two prior convictions — one in 1992 for attempted robbery and one in 1998 for a double murder. According to prosecutors, Collins was granted parole in the double-murder case roughly one year before he allegedly killed Johnson.
The case was one of several cited by organizers of a recall effort against Gascón, who announced when he took office that he would no longer file special-circumstance allegations that can lead to no-parole prison terms or death sentences. Critics said the lack of such an allegation meant that Collins would again be eligible for eventual parole if convicted.
But the District Attorney’s Office announced this week that a review of the case by an Alternative Charging Evaluation Committee prompted prosecutors to amend the case against Collins, adding a special-circumstance allegation of having a previous first-degree murder conviction.
Adding the allegation means Collins is now facing a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“An internal committee of experienced attorneys with diverse backgrounds has reviewed the facts of this case and determined that, in this extremely rare instance, a policy deviation was warranted and approved the filing of a special circumstance allegation,” Gascón said in a statement announcing the move. “The facts of this case are extraordinary and demanded further review based on our charging policies.”
Organizers of the effort to recall Gascón announced Wednesday they have surpassed the 566,857 petition signatures needed to force a recall vote.
The signature-collecting effort will continue, with organizers planning to gather as many as 700,000 by the July 6 deadline, to ensure the petitions have the required number of valid signatures.