A man accused of lighting the fire in a music studio that left two people dead and two severely injured in Studio City is now facing capital murder charges, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
Efrem Zimbalist Demery, 28, has been charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and arson of a structure, prosecutors said. He was out with the two men killed — Devaughn Carter, 28, and Michael Pollard, 30 — and had a dispute with them just hours before the fire Saturday morning, police said.
A few people managed to escape the deadly blaze, which was reported just before 7 a.m. It happened in the 3700 block of Cahuenga Boulevard and also critically injured a 15-year-old girl and a man in his 20s, officials said.
The two were still being hospitalized for severe burns a full two days after the fire, authorities said.
Police said at least one of the men killed had been friends with Demery for several years. So far, a suspected motive has not been revealed by prosecutors or police.
According to investigators, Demery went to a nearby gas station and bought some of the fuel before returning to the studio, a nondescript single-story building listed under Top Notch Recordings. The structure has multiple recording rooms inside.
Once back at the studio, Demery allegedly poured the gasoline in a hallway near where the victims were, police said. As the fire ripped through the building, some of the others inside managed to escape.
“I almost lost my life,” said L.A. Pryce, a musician who was sleeping inside the studio just before the fire broke out. “I barely got out. I ran through the fire and through the smoke.”
He said just billows of black smoke and flames were visible as he fled. Demery was arrested later that same day in South L.A.
In the days after the fire, Los Angeles Police Department Capt. William Hayes said investigators believe the two men who died were the “intended targets” of Demery.
“The direct nature of going after these individuals is obviously very heinous,” Hayes said. “Arson is a brutal crime and a terrible way to die.”
Carter and Pollard were both fathers of young children. Outside the courthouse on Tuesday, Pollard’s girlfriend said the couple had their first child together, a daughter.
“I’m a big family person so knowing that my daughter lost her father, it’s hard,” she said, holding the toddler as she began to tear up. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Miller said she only knew Demery through Pollard but said the two were friends. She also said Pollard helped Demery through some hard times.
“Honestly, I find it hard to believe,” she said of the murder allegations. “(Pollard) took him in and helped him out. When I found out it was him, I was heartbroken.”
As authorities have not explained why exactly they believe Demery sought to kill the two men, Miller said she and some friends and family are still puzzled as to why.
“It’s hard because we just want answers,” she said. “What would drive someone, a friend, to do that?”
“How can you take her father away from her, you know?” she said, her voice choking as she looked over at her daughter.
Demery faces a maximum sentence of the death penalty or life in state prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted, prosecutors said. The decision of whether he would face death will be made at a later date.