By Ed Fletcher
Sometimes being kind to strangers can backfire.
That's the unfortunate lesson two Placer County women learned in April when a homeless Auburn man stole their cars after asking for help.
The three-day crime spree by James McMahon, 22, concluded with the attempted murder of an 81-year-old man with a tire iron and a high-speed car chase through Yuba County, said Dave Tellman, Placer County's supervising deputy district attorney.
"The only mistake they made was going out on a limb to help somebody," Tellman said of the three victims. "It's too bad this had to happen."
McMahon, an Auburn transient, is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison after being convicted Monday on the two separate 2011 carjackings and kidnapping one of the victims.
Earlier this year, McMahon pleaded guilty in Nevada County to attempted murder and robbery.
McMahon is scheduled to be sentenced for the Placer County crimes Feb. 3.
The crime spree began April 16 when McMahon approached a 19-year-old woman leaving a bank. McMahon asked for directions to Grass Valley.
McMahon then told the woman he had a gun and told her to drive him, Tellman said. He later put the gun to her head and told her to leave the vehicle.
The vehicle was recovered after it was driven into a pond in Auburn Regional Park.
Two days later, he stuck again. The April 18 encounter began with McMahon asking a 51-year-old woman waiting for a fitness class in the parking lot of Auburn Regional Park for change.
"She was just a real charitable women," Tellman said. "When he asked for change, she said, 'Let me look in my purse.'"
Tellman said he then put a broken bottle to her neck and took her car.
Tellman said McMahon didn't look alarming.
"He didn't look grossly transient. His appearance disarmed these victims," he said.
McMahon then drove to a Penn Valley neighborhood with accomplice John Adrian. McMahon didn't know this victim either, Tellman said.
"He was like the first two people. He answered the door and went out of his way to help these people," Tellman said.
McMahon beat the 81-year-old resident with a tire iron and robbed him, Tellman said.
He and Adrian then fled to Yuba County, where he led deputies on a high-speed chase, reaching 120 mph.