A man accused of gunning down a Desert Hot Springs teen more than two decades ago was in custody Friday in a case recently reopened by Riverside County prosecutors.
Joseph Ray Messer, 41, is accused of shooting 17-year-old Jamie Brown in front of friends and family on July 27, 1996 after confronting a group of teens outside the boy’s home.
Messer was charged with the murder in 2014, but prosecutors dropped the charges after concluding the evidence wasn’t strong enough at the time to convict him.
District Attorney’s spokesman John Hall said Messer was arrested Monday at a courthouse in Northern California’s El Dorado County, where Messer was attending a sentencing hearing for his brother in a robbery case.
He was booked Friday morning into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, where he was being held on $1 million bail.
Messer, who was 20 at the time of shooting, allegedly approached Brown’s younger brother and several other teens while they rode skateboards just after 1 a.m. outside the Browns’ home at 13405 Ramona Drive.
After being asked for a cigarette, Messer allegedly stared down the group and said “I’ll smoke you, fat boy,” an arrest warrant declaration states. He then allegedly added “I’ll smoke all you guys,” while keeping his right hand at his waistband and concealing it behind a baseball cap.
Jamie Brown was inside the home when the confrontation started, but was retrieved by his brother, who said there was a “crazy guy out front starting (expletive),” according to the declaration. Brown and some of the other teens followed Messer into an open desert area north of the home, where
the shooting occurred.
Messer allegedly fired a shot into the air then three to four gunshots at the group of teens, striking Brown, who was taken to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, where he later died.
The alleged murder weapon, a .38 caliber revolver, was found later that day by a resident, who told police that Messer, who appeared “extremely agitated,” asked him for a ride out of town, according to the declaration.
After a police car drove past, Messer allegedly tossed the gun and ran. The gun, which matched the weapon used to kill Brown, was found to be registered to one of Messer’s relatives, the declaration states.
Messer later claimed to an investigator that the shooting was in self- defense. He denied confronting the teens and said that one of them claimed “Let’s kick this dude’s ass” as he walked past the house. The group then chased him with “bats, bottles and everything,” he said, forcing him to fire on them when they wouldn’t back off.
Messer was identified early on as a person of interest in the case, but a “lack of positive suspect identification” prevented prosecutors from charging him in 1996, the declaration states.
Messer is expected to be arraigned on the new charges Tuesday.