The Tragic 2002 Murder Of Actor Merlin Santana

Brandon Quintin Adams saw a red laser in his sideview mirror and two men running toward his car. It was the early morning of November 9, 2002, and he and his friend and fellow actor Merlin Santana were getting ready to leave a home recording studio in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. Santana was working on a rap album — his first, according to "Final Cut." "Duck," Adams shouted to Santana as the sound of gunfire ripped through the night. Adams drove off as the men continued to fire at them. He turned to Santana and saw he'd been hit and was bleeding from a head wound.

Adams flagged down a police cruiser and officers called for an ambulance, but it was too late, according to a Los Angeles Police Department press release. Santana's acting and music career had been on the rise. He had just appeared in the Eddie Murphy film "Showtime,” and the 26-year-old already had a long television career that began when he was just a child with a recurring role on "The Cosby Show." He was probably best known for his role as Romeo Santana on "The Steve Harvey Show." Now he was dead, and a lie had helped end his life.

A bullet to the back of the head

A few days earlier, Merlin Santana and Brandon Quintin Adams were at a restaurant when they met a young woman who told them her name was Mercedes. She'd recognized Santana from TV and gave him her number. On November 9, Santana called and invited her to the studio, and she came over. "What they didn't know was that she was being dropped off by other people who were also in the car, two young men," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum told "Final Cut."

When Mercedes arrived she only stayed a few minutes, made a phone call, and then left. Adams, suspicious, followed her out and saw her get into an SUV that drove off and parked further down the street. Adams and Santana left a short time later. It was then that two men — Damien Andre Gates and Brandon Douglas Bynes, both in their 20s — began firing at the car, according to the Associated Press. One of the .30 caliber bullets from Gates' rifle passed through the car's trunk into the backseat and through a headrest before hitting the back of Santana's head. "A lucky shot, or unlucky for Mr. Santana," LAPD Detective John Garcia told "Final Cut."

A false accusation with deadly consequences

The LAPD arrested the mysterious Mercedes the next day and learned that she had lied to Damien Gates and Brandon Bynes, which led to Merlin Santana's murder. "What really started all of this was Ms. King's false accusation that Brandon Adams and Merlin Santana had tried to rape her," district attorney Craig Hum told "Final Cut." "There's no reason for her to make that accusation and obviously that led to a series of tragic events that resulted in the death of Merlin Santana."

During her interrogation, she lied multiple times before finally admitting her real name was Monique King and she was a 15-year-old runaway. She never explained why she lied about what happened to her, nor did she express remorse. Gates and Bynes were also arrested. A judge sentenced Gates to 70 years to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder, according to the Los Angeles Times. Bynes took a plea deal and went to prison for 23 years. Per the Ventura County Star, King was tried as an adult in a 2004 bench trial and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility until she turned 25. Police believe the trio's original plan was to rob Santana and Adams. "It's my belief that the suspects were going to storm the residence and gather what they could," LAPD Detective John Garcia told "Final Cut."