Jacqueline Avant's killer sentenced to more than 150 years in prison

Jacqueline Avant, left, and Clarence Avant
Jacqueline Avant, left, and Clarence Avant in 2020. (Mark Von Holden / Invision via Associated Press)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday sentenced the man convicted in the murder of Jacqueline Avant to more than 150 years to life in prison, saying he shot a “highly vulnerable” 81-year old woman in the back and then giggled about it afterward.

Judge Kathryn Solorzano said that after fatally shooting Avant, a well-known philanthropist, Aariel Maynor fired multiple times at an unarmed security guard as he fled the Beverly Hills home. The judge said the 29-year-old career criminal planned the burglary, looking up the homeownership records of Avant’s husband, music industry legend Clarence Avant.

“He shot her in the back, indicating she was not a threat to him,” Solorzano said.

She sentenced Maynor to 150 years to life for murder, with three-strikes enhancements plus a consecutive 40 years for his other crimes.

Beverly Hills police Chief Mark Stainbrook announces the arrest of Aariel Maynor.
Beverly Hills police Chief Mark Stainbrook announces the arrest of Aariel Maynor in December. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Before the sentence was handed down, Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila played a recording of Maynor in the Los Angeles County jail in which he called a female friend and laughed about the Dec. 1 killing and the publicity surrounding it.

“That’s not funny. That somebody’s life,” the unidentified woman replied.

In the recording, Maynor boasted that he “was all over the news” and wondered, “You think my mama’s seen that, though?”

He told the woman in the jailhouse call he expected to get $50,000 from a burglary there that night.

Maynor had pleaded guilty to Avant’s premeditated murder as well as the attempted murder of the security guard, possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of burglary.

Avant’s daughter, Nicole Avant, said in a letter to the judge that was read by the prosecutor before sentencing that “the only word to describe the state of our family is shattered.”

“We are asking the defendant spend the rest of his life prison,” the letter stated.

Jacqueline Avant served as president of the Neighborhood of Watts, a support group for child care in South Los Angeles. Her husband advised or produced a slew of hit-making musicians, including Jimmy Smith, Bill Withers, Babyface and Lalo Schifrin. Known as the “Black Godfather,” Clarence Avant received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.

The slaying triggered a public outcry over a new wave of violent crimes in Los Angeles County.

Prosecutors had sought 150 years to life for Maynor with the three-strikes enhancement, plus a consecutive 43-year term for his other crimes.

Maynor’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Marcus Huntley, tried to persuade the judge to remove his prior strikes.

But Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s prosecutors sought to ensure Maynor would not qualify for early release because he has two previous convictions. Though prosecutors did not seek life without parole in his case, Gascón said that “this is a de facto sentence that will result in Maynor spending the rest of his life in prison.”

"There was never any doubt that we were going to pursue this case rigorously," Gascón said Tuesday after the sentencing. "This case shocks us all. ... Because of a completely senseless act, Los Angeles lost Jacqueline Avant, a community leader and philanthropist.

"Our office has, and will continue to, seek to hold accountable those who cause grievous harm in our communities,” the district attorney said.

In asking the judge to consider his background, Huntley acknowledged that Maynor will never leave prison. But the judge said his prior crimes were violent. “I don’t have any record he has done anything positive in prison,” she said.

Wearing a white jail shirt and seated in a wheelchair, Maynor showed no reaction as the recording of him laughing was played for the court or when he was sentenced.

Eric Siddall, the vice president of Los Angeles' Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, said Maynor's lengthy sentence was possible only because of the group's injunction that struck down Gascón’s attempt to eliminate sentencing enhancements.

“For Gascón now to claim that he’s responsible for today’s sentence is not only revisionist history, it’s completely false,” Siddall said. “Without that injunction, Avant’s killer would be eligible for parole in 21 years, despite his long criminal record and brutal conduct.”

Security video from a neighboring home captured Maynor in dark clothing approaching the Avants' house with the AR-15-style rifle. He told detectives that once inside the home, he was startled by Jacqueline Avant, who yelled at him.

A few minutes later, the camera caught him fleeing and turning around to fire five shots in the direction of the guard, then frantically fumbling to get into his Lexus. He dropped a red glove that would tie him to the crime.

“He shot Jacqueline Avant in the back with a large-caliber weapon and attempted to kill a security guard,” Avila wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “If that was not enough, within an hour, he decided to break into another home with the same firearm.”

When the burglary at the Avant house failed, Maynor went to a home in the Hollywood Hills and attempted another one. A short time later, he was captured by Los Angeles police in the backyard of that home, where he had shot himself in the foot with the rifle he'd used to kill Avant an hour earlier.

It remains unclear why Maynor targeted the Avants’ home or if he knew whose residence he’d broken into.

Maynor was paroled from state prison three months before shooting Avant. According to the sentencing memorandum, he had two prior convictions for robbery and causing great bodily injury. His most recent robbery was committed three years before he killed Avant.

According to a probation report, Maynor was 21 and homeless at the time of his first robbery conviction, in which he shoved a woman to the ground and kicked her in the face in Hollywood.

Los Angeles police arrested Maynor for robbery a second time in 2018, records show. While in jail, he reported suffering from bipolar disorder, among other conditions, and said he had been taking medication to treat schizophrenia.

“It was a horrific, tragic crime the impact of which continues to traumatize her family and the greater community,” Gascón said in an interview Monday of Avant's killing. “I wanted to hold him accountable but at the same time avoid a painful trial for the family. ... Mr. Maynor has been in the system since 12. It speaks to the failure of the criminal justice system. He rated as the highest of most violent offenders in the prison system.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.