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Ashley Butts, daughter of Inglewood mayor, guilty of conspiracy in beating of landlord

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Early one morning seven years ago, a masked man entered a home in South Los Angeles armed with a metal pipe and a gun.

He beat the homeowner with the pipe and fired a shot into a wall before fleeing. A woman who was inside the house held a towel to homeowner’s head and called 911. “He’s bleeding!” she said, sounding panicked.

The violence in those early hours of April 30, 2016, might have gone unnoticed by the general public but for two twists.

The first was the woman who called 911 was Ashley Butts, daughter of James Butts, the mayor of Inglewood. The second is that detectives came to believe that Ashley Butts had orchestrated the attack.

After deliberating for two and a half hours, a jury on Monday found Butts, 37, who now goes by the name Aasha Yvette Ealy, guilty of assault and conspiring to commit assault. She faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced Aug. 31.

Prosecutors made the case that Butts, embroiled in a dispute with the owner of a home on 78th Street where she rented a room, hired an associate to beat her landlord.

The weeklong trial, which culminated in Butts testifying in her own defense, cast an unflattering spotlight on the family of one of Southern California’s most powerful — and controversial — local politicians.

James Butts has presided over the construction of a $5-billion football stadium and accompanying development projects that have changed the fortunes of Inglewood and turned the once down-on-its-luck city into a destination. But he has legal problems of his own: Butts struck a motorist and a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer in a 2019 collision, and faces a civil trial scheduled for November.

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In March 2016, Ashley Butts moved into a white, three-bedroom house with large bay windows near the border of Los Angeles and Inglewood. Larry Daniels, who had inherited the home from his mother, was glad to get the $500 a month in rent Butts agreed to pay for the back bedroom. He lived in the house, which was in danger of foreclosure.

The problems began soon after.

Butts moved in with three dogs: Tiger, a boxer; Papi, a Chihuahua; and Pepper, a schnauzer chow chow mix. “I don’t like dogs,” Daniels testified.

Initially they stayed in the backyard, but after one of Daniels’ friends began keeping his pit bull chained up behind the home, Butts kept her dogs in a hallway.

One day, a friend accidentally let Butts’ dogs into the backyard. She came home to find Tiger’s ear, “hanging off of his head,” she testified.

Butts asked Daniels to pay for the $1,300 veterinarian bill or deduct it from her rent, Daniels testified. He refused.

Then came the time Daniels returned home and found Butts wearing his mother’s clothes. “I told her, ‘Why do you have mom’s clothes on?’”

Butts refused to return the clothes until he reimbursed her for the cost of having them dry-cleaned, Daniels testified.

Despite their issues as landlord and tenant, Daniels liked Butts and was interested in her romantically, although he sensed she didn’t feel the same way.

Butts would come into his room late at night and ask to “cuddle,” he testified. Once, he made a pass at her. She stood up abruptly and walked out.

Daniels apologized, but from that point on, Butts testified, “he seemed to complain about things I did more frequently than in the past. It seemed like everything I did was a problem.”

Prosecutors alleged Butts began to hatch a plan. On April 11, Butts’ friend, Israel Rios, had texted her: “The homie said he’s down to touch that fool up for a HUNNIT $”

Eighteen days later, Butts found two bicycles she’d left chained to the side of the house were missing. She accused Daniels of stealing them.

“I felt betrayed,” she testified. “I was sad and — I can’t think of a better word than betrayed.”

“Were you upset enough about the bikes to have Mr. Daniels harmed?” asked her attorney, Joseph Weimortz.

“I would never be upset enough to harm anyone.”

At 10:57 p.m. on April 29, 2016, Butts sweetened the deal. She texted Rios: “$200”

Then: “$250 cash. Right now”

“It’s not that easy,” Rios replied. “Hold in [sic]”

Butts paid for a driver to pick up Rios and a friend in Long Beach and take them to Daniels’ home, Uber records showed. The driver, Raul Muniz, testified two Latino men – both bald, dressed in baggy sweatshirts and who spoke with “cholo accents” – got into his Honda Civic at 1:21 a.m.

Five minutes later, Rios texted Butts: “Park ur car on 78th pl. Leave the car keys only with the $. Right now do that please”

“Kk,” Butts replied. “On it”

Muniz dropped the two men on Crenshaw Boulevard near 78th Street.

Just before 2 a.m., Rios texted Butts: “Open it now. We waiting”

Daniels heard a noise coming from the front area of his home. He went to check and saw a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants and a “black skull mask” inching along a wall. He held a revolver with both hands, Daniels recalled.

As the intruder came closer, Daniels saw he was also carrying a metal pipe. He beat Daniels in the head and arms with the pipe, then fired a shot from the revolver. The bullet struck a wall.

Based on how close they were – just two feet apart – Daniels said he did not believe the intruder intended to kill him.

“I looked down to see if I was bleeding anywhere other than my head,” Daniels testified. When he looked up the masked man was gone.

Butts brought Daniels a towel to stanch the bleeding from his forehead and called 911. She went with him to Centinela Hospital Medical Center, where he got six stitches to close the wound and was treated for a concussion, he testified.

Butts told the jury she too saw the intruder, a “gangly” man with long arms, point a gun at both her and Daniels. His hand was covered with a sock.

“I froze,” she testified.

Rios, 44, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and conspiracy to commit assault. He has yet to go on trial.

Weimortz, Butts’ attorney, argued the prosecution and the police cherry-picked text messages to stitch together a story of a sinister conspiracy, while ignoring the many more messages in which Butts and Rios discussed buying marijuana, getting lunch and other innocuous topics.

Weimortz said Butts had no motive to assault her landlord. “What do you gain by having someone come to the house, bop somebody on the head and run out? That’s the most bizarre set of facts.”

Williams urged the jury to consider the “lies” Butts told the police and on the witness stand. She may appear educated and “poised,” the prosecutor said, yet “she will get on the stand and lie directly to your faces. It is frightening. That is what makes her dangerous.”

After Butts declared she would “never be upset enough to harm anyone,” Escobedo allowed Williams to impeach Butts’ testimony with evidence of two prior arrests.

In 2014, two Long Beach police officers were handcuffing Butts, who was suspected of stealing a dog, when she allegedly tried to resist. One of the officers yanked her to the ground by her hair and Butts bit him in the arm, according to testimony. The officer shocked her with his Taser.

Later that year, Butts punched an ex-boyfriend. In reporting the incident, the ex-boyfriend told police, “She thinks she’s above the law because of her family,” Williams told the judge.

Butts pleaded no contest to two counts of obstructing a police officer and, after completing terms and conditions set by a judge, the charges in both incidents were dismissed.

Williams also produced a letter from a law school from which Butts had been expelled in 2014 for being “deceitful” and “hostile” toward staff.

“2014 was a bad year for Ms. Butts,” Weimortz said, calling it unfair for the prosecution to dredge up old incidents that had nothing to do with the assault on Daniels. “If there was a letter saying she was particularly greedy and didn’t want to share her candy in the second grade, we would have seen it in this case.”

Butts has since graduated from the University of West Los Angeles law school and passed the California bar exam, said James Blatt, another lawyer who represented Butts. She had plans of practicing civil rights law, he said, but “getting a felony conviction will make it difficult for her to practice. Not impossible, but difficult.”

Butts showed no emotion as the jury read the verdict Monday afternoon.

In an interview afterward, Williams said Butts had been “manipulating the system. The fact that members of the community listened to what she had to say and didn’t believe it speaks volumes.”

Blatt asked that Butts be allowed to remain out on bail before her sentencing, but Escobedo, noting Butts had “thumbed her nose at the court” over the seven years her case was pending, ordered that she be jailed.

As a sheriff’s deputy cuffed her wrists behind her back and led her away, Butts whispered to her mother in the courtroom gallery: “Bye mommy, I love you.”

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