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Four months after she evaded capture by local authorities, a woman suspected of playing a role in two violent Santa Rosa-area marijuana-related home-invasion robberies, including one that left a homeowner dead, was arrested this week in a friend’s home near where she lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Amber Hembree, 20, and four other masked gunmen are accused of storming into the pair of homes on opposite ends of Santa Rosa on Feb. 8, tying up residents and shooting two people, killing one man and wounding another. They were in search of cannabis, cash and weapons, investigators said at the time.

Hembree, the only suspect who remained at large after that day, was taken into custody Monday by the Richmond-based U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force on felony charges of murder, robbery and kidnapping.

All of the suspects, including Hembree, who goes by the nickname “Skittles,” are alleged Crips gang members, according to Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Marshals, acting on a tip from Sonoma County sheriff’s detectives as to Hembree’s probable whereabouts, found her hiding in the attic of a friend’s townhouse in Chester, 20 miles outside of Richmond, about 9 a.m. Monday.

A stolen, loaded handgun was recovered from the residence, but it was not in Hembree’s immediate possession, according to Kevin Connolly, supervisor of the Richmond task force.

Hembree, who first refused authorities’ demands to surrender, was taken into custody by marshals after she crawled out of the attic without any clothes on, Connolly said.

How Hembree managed to return to Virgina was unknown, he said, but federal authorities believed she’d been there for several months.

Before the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office’s tip, the federal task force was unable to find her as she moved from location to location, staying with different known associates, Connolly said.

The pair of early morning Feb. 8 robberies occurred about two hours and 5 miles apart on Santa Rosa’s outskirts. First, the intruders barged into a home in the 1900 block of Fulton Road, jolting awake a married couple and their three children, ages 9, 14 and 18.

The mother, interviewed in February, said they had no large sum of money in the house or anything else of significant value that might attract would-be robbers.

The assailants bound the 18-year-old with duct tape and shoved her into a laundry room, pistol-whipped the 14-year-old boy and shot her husband in the arm before fleeing, apparently empty-handed.

Sheriff’s investigators said they found no evidence of drug operations or other illicit activity at the home.

Some 2½ hours later, a 911 call came about the shooting near Todd Road, on Melcon Lane, at a gated home at the end of a quarter-mile road flanked by horse stables to the east and the campus of a Sikh temple to the west. There, homeowner Jose Luis Torres, 54, was fatally shot 10 times, according to family members.

Sheriff’s deputies found evidence of marijuana cultivation and sales at the property, where guns were also stolen by suspects, Crum said at the time of the incident. Family members at the Melcon Lane home insisted they were not involved in drug sales.

REVIEW FINDS FEW PERMITS BY INVESTORS

Many auction buyers said the large markups they got

when flipping homes can be deceiving because they often put tens of

thousands of dollars into refurbishing the homes.

But a review of 41 homes purchased at Sonoma County auctions

revealed flippers applied for only four building permits, which are

required by local municipalities to do work such as replacing

toilets, redoing electrical wiring, putting in new water heaters or

other more extensive structural work.

Many investors said they conducted this work when asked about

costs, but a review of county and city records showed they never

pulled permits.

The extent of work on one Sonoma County home purchased by real

estate investor Chris Peterson was detailed in a newsletter to his

financial backers. It described and included photos of the repairs,

which included installing a new shower, toilet, sink and raising

the kitchen ceiling from seven feet to eight feet.

But no permit was ever pulled for the home at 1422 Forestview

Drive, on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.

"There would be a permit requirement for that," said Patrick

Mullin, customer service supervisor at the county's Permit and

Resource Management Department.

Mullin estimated the cost of the permit would be about $1,800 to

$2,500. Peterson's company sold the home in September for a markup

of about 65 percent -- or $208,000 more than it paid at

auction.

Mullin said homeowners who buy homes with unpermitted work are

still responsible for the unpaid fees, but that the seller is

"obliged to disclose that they did work without a permit."

Peterson said the work done at 1422 Forestview Dr. did not require

building permits, and that raising the kitchen ceiling a foot was

"an exaggeration."

-- Nathan Halverson

The suspects fled in a teal Astro van to Vallejo, where, about an hour later, after 8 a.m., their vehicle was spotted in a parking lot shared by a Denny’s diner and a Motel 6 by a Sonoma County sheriff’s detective working another case, said Crum.

A pursuit of the minivan and foot chase ended with the arrest of three suspects; the fourth was taken into custody later that night when he returned to a Santa Rosa hotel.

They are Mussie Kibrom Himed, 27, of Santa Rosa; Tyrone Lamar Mcrae, 25, of Jackson, Mississippi; David Ealey, 23, of Richmond, Virginia; and Jonathan Christopher Doug Jackson, 19, of Richmond Hill, New York.

Hembree slipped away and made it all the way back to Virginia.

After learning of her arrest, Sonoma County sheriff’s detectives flew to Virginia to interview her. She was scheduled to appear in a Virgina court Wednesday morning, and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office expects to extradite her soon, though a more definitive time frame was unavailable.

“As soon as a judge allows it, then we’ll go pick her up,” said Crum. “We don’t have a date. It’s a judge’s decision and we have to work it out there.” Typically, cross-state prosecutions prioritize the most severe crimes first, he said.

Hembree’s alleged role in the February robberies and shootings has not been detailed by authorities. Crum noted that all suspects engaged in the crime are deemed equally culpable under the law.

The robberies were the most violent of eight known marijuana-related home invasions in Sonoma County since the recreational cannabis trade became legal at the start of the year.

Many of the suspects arrested in connection with the series of crimes have come from the East Coast, where the Sheriff’s Office believes they are seeking to take advantage of the black market for California-grown marijuana.

The four men suspected in the Feb. 8 robberies are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Sept. 4 in Sonoma County Superior Court. Sheriff Rob Giordano expressed his thanks to the U.S. Marshals Service for taking Hembree into custody to land the final suspect in that criminal investigation.

“Interagency cooperation of this serious case was so valuable,” Giordano said in a statement. “Along with the perseverance of our detective team, we hope to give the families some resolution. Our sincere thanks goes out to the U.S. Marshals for their dedication and commitment.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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