A Utah man was held without bail Thursday on charges of murder in the deaths of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and another man.
Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 30, of St. George, wore a navy blue jail uniform during his initial arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court as the family of Deputy Joseph G. Solano and uniformed deputies with black mourning bands over the badges looked on.
Authorities accuse Nelson of committing a spate of crimes Monday. They say he fatally shot Dmitry Koltsov from his vehicle in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, attempted to kill Aleksandr Chudetckii, then fatally shot Solano inside a Jack in the Box in suburban Alhambra. Authorities also say he committed two armed robberies in Long Beach.
Separately, police in San Diego County are investigating if Nelson robbed five convenience stores with a handgun between June 7 and Sunday.
Nelson’s family says he suffers from mental illness and an opiate addiction. His family reported him missing last month when he left their Utah home with a firearm and said he wanted to “make it on his own or die,” according to St. George, Utah, police. His family told police they did not believe he was suicidal or a danger to others at the time.
Defense attorney Jenn Bartick was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Nelson is due back in court on July 22 for further arraignment. He did not enter a plea on Thursday before Judge Teresa Sullivan and quietly answered, “Yes, Your Honor,” when she asked him if he understood that his arraignment was being extended.
The case includes special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle and using a handgun in the commission of the crimes. Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek life in prison or the death penalty if Nelson is convicted.
Solano’s family hugged each other as they filed out of the courtroom and were quickly shepherded into a back room by prosecutor Antonella Nistorescu.
A candlelight vigil will be held for Solano at the Jack in the Box where he was shot Thursday night, according to social media posts by San Gabriel City Councilwoman Denise Menchaca.