A woman arrested in the stabbing death of a woman in a mall parking structure in Rolling Hills Estates was released from custody Tuesday, a day after the District Attorney’s Office — citing the need for more investigation — held off on filing a case against her.
Cherie Townsend, 39, was taken into custody early Thursday morning in Victorville and booked on suspicion of murder in the death of Susan Leeds, 66, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who was attacked about 12:15 p.m. May 3 in the parking garage at the Promenade on the Peninsula in the 500 block of Deep Valley Drive.
Detectives presented their case against Townsend to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors asked law enforcement to “conduct further investigation,” according to Sarah Ardalani, a public information officer with the District Attorney’s Office.
Townsend, who had been jailed in lieu of $2 million bail, was released Tuesday morning without having to post bail, according to the Sheriff’s Department, which earlier had issued a statement that said “the general public has come forward and provided additional information in this case which has been followed up appropriately.”
“The focus of our investigation has absolutely not changed. The investigation has progressed,” according to the Sheriff’s Department.
“It is not unusual for prosecutors to request additional information and we are confident this homicide case is moving forward. Investigators also had the opportunity to obtain key statements from a suspect and collect physical evidence that is now undergoing rigorous forensic examination at an LASD crime lab.”
After Townsend’s arrest, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at a news conference Friday at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles that the motive for the crime was believed to be robbery, and that investigators believed the victim was “randomly chosen” and was not known by her killer.
City officials in Rolling Hills Estates continue to ask the public for patience in the investigation.
“Effective justice depends on a thorough investigation,” said Mayor Britt Huff in a statement. “I urge patience, and I have confidence in the ongoing investigative process being undertaken by the DA and Sheriff. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Department continues to emphasize that there is no ongoing threat to the Palos Verdes Peninsula community connected to this case.”
Leeds was found inside her white 2016 Mercedes-Benz SUV parked on the first floor of the Promenade’s parking garage, with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest.
Townsend’s vehicle — a gold 2008 Chevrolet Malibu — had been parked on the same floor, McDonnell said, noting then that there was still a “tremendous amount of investigative work” to be done and asking anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity around the two vehicles that day to contact detectives.
“There were items taken from the scene that led us to believe it was a robbery as well as additional follow-up evidence,” sheriff’s Capt. Chris Bergner told reporters. “The physical evidence is what helped lead us to a suspect, but there’s still a lot of physical evidence to process — both physically process and forensically process.”
A man was initially detained May 4 as a person of interest in the case, but was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in the killing.