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Merced woman who helped cop-killer escape back behind bars

A woman convicted for helping cop killer Cuitlahuac Tahua "Tao" Rivera flee from law enforcement four years ago is again behind bars.

Merced police this week reported the arrest of Serena Lee Winzer, 26, and Andre Demarck Thomas, 31, after a probation search at the couple's 48 West 12th St. apartment.

Winzer was one of five suspects arrested in June 2007 for helping Rivera escape from Merced County after he fatally shot Merced Police Officer Stephan Gray on April 15, 2004. She eventually pleaded guilty to a felony accessory charge and was sentenced to three years probation.

On Wednesday, members of the Merced Police Department’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit visited the couple's residence and performed the probation search, according to Officer Joe Deliman. Deliman said police discovered four handguns, along with ammunition for the guns in a kitchen cupboard.

In addition, Deliman said police found a 2-foot-high marijuana plant growing in a planter in the couple's backyard. Deliman said about six grams of marijuana was found in the residence, in addition to more than $2,000 cash, a digital scale and a plate coated with cocaine residue.

Deliman said police believe the pair may have disposed of the narcotics that allegedly had been on the plate before investigators entered the home.

Later the same day, Deliman said investigators returned to the residence and served a search warrant, discovering 10 grams of rock cocaine.

Three of the couple's four children, who range in age from 5 months to 3 years, were at the home with the couple when police arrived, Deliman said. Those children are now being cared for by Merced County Child Protective Services. Deliman said the fourth child, who was in school when the probation search was served, is with a relative.

The couple was booked on suspicion of several crimes, including possession and sale of narcotics, maintaining a place were narcotics are used and sold, being convicted felons in possession of firearms, cultivation of marijuana and child endangerment.

Winzer remains at the John Latorraca Correctional Center in lieu of $51,500 bail, while Thomas remains at the same facility in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Deliman said Winzer and Thomas are both associates of the Merced Gangster Crips, the same gang that Rivera belongs to.During a preliminary hearing last year, Anna Hazel, an investigator with the Merced County District Attorney's Office, testified that Winzer and another man had tried to arrange for someone to transport Rivera out of Merced County after he killed Gray. Hazel testified that Winzer was also present at meetings where plans were discussed to help Rivera.

Rivera, who was eventually captured by law enforcement, was sentenced to death by a Colusa County jury in May last year. He remains on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or