When a robber from Los Angeles shoved his pistol into the stomach of a San Juan Capistrano jewelry store manager early Friday, the store's owner drew a gun and opened fire, killing the would-be thief and one of his accomplices, authorities revealed Monday.
"At this point it looks like self-defense," said Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino.
Left dead was 39-year-old Robert Earl Avery, who reportedly brandished his weapon after being buzzed into Monaco Jewelers and holding the door open for accomplices Desmond Brown, 39, also from L.A., and a third man who fled after the shooting.
The armed store owner, "thinking his fellow employee was about to be harmed," fired his first shot at Avery, Amormino said. When Brown then advanced toward the owner—whose name was withheld—the jeweler gunned him down too, firing at least one other shot.
Upon hearing the gun go off, the third suspect jumped over the counter, sprinted out the front door and hopped into a getaway vehicle, Amormino said. A fourth suspect was waiting behind the wheel of a stolen blue Toyota Camry from San Bernardino. They drove a short distance before dumping the car, then climbed into another vehicle and escaped the scene.
An autopsy report completed Monday confirmed that Avery and Brown died from gunshot wounds. The full reports will not be released until the Sheriff's Department finalizes its investigation.
"I do not know how many shots were fired," Amormino said. "We're waiting to release that."
Meanwhile, the law firm representing Monaco Jewelers contends Avery's gun was initially held to the store manager’s head. After a struggle, the pistol was pressed against the manager's stomach, said attorney Bonnie N. Fine, of Palm Desert-based Fine & Woliung.
In a statement released to the media, Fine said the owner’s wife and 19-year-old son were forced to the floor at gunpoint after the robbers entered the store. The owner's "dear friend and manager was assaulted and a gun was held to his head," prompting the owner to shoot, the statement said. “Though [the owner] regrets the loss of life, he is thankful that his family and employees are alive."
Fine declined to release any employee names, saying, “We’re concerned about retaliation at this point."
According to Los Angeles Superior Court records, Avery was convicted in 1999, 2006 and 2007 of carrying cocaine with the intent to sell. In the 1990s, he was also found guilty of tampering with a telephone and counterfeit.
A hunt is still on for the third and fourth suspects. Anyone who might have seen the two men is asked to call 1-866-TIP-OCSD.