An Alameda County Superior Court judge today ordered two suspected gang members to stand trial on allegations that they beat a 21-year-old Union City woman to death, dumped her body near a freeway and then set it on fire.
Salvador Valasco, 23, and Hector Garcia, 32, are both charged with murder and the special circumstance of committing a murder during a kidnapping in connection with the death of Monica Rodas-Alfaro in Oakland on July 14, 2011.
Oakland police Sgt. Steve Nowak testified on Tuesday — the first day of the preliminary hearing for Valasco and Garcia — that an autopsy had determined that Rodas-Alfaro died from blunt force trauma to her head and that her body was set on fire after she already was dead.
Prosecutors haven't specified an alleged motive for the brutal attack, but Nowak said witness Pablo Ahumada told him in an interview that Garcia and Valasco were trying to get Rodas-Alfaro to tell them who had robbed Garcia in a previous incident. Ahumada, 31, testified that he was a friend of Rodas-Alfaro and that she was Valasco's girlfriend.
He said they were among a small gathering of people who were all smoking methamphetamine and marijuana at a house at 3131 Nicol Ave. in East Oakland early the morning of July 14, 2011.
Rodas-Alfaro was arguing with Garcia and Valasco, and Ahumada testified that he wasn't sure what the argument was about until a man nicknamed "Bullet" walked in, made fun of the situation and told Rodas-Alfaro to "tell them who it is."
He said up until that point, the group had been having a good time together, but the atmosphere then changed dramatically. He said Valasco bound Rodas-Alfaro's hands with plastic wrap, gagged her and covered her head with a sweater so she couldn't see.
Ahumada, who initially was a suspect in the case but was never charged, said Garcia then grabbed a torch and told Rodas-Alfaro that he would burn her. He said Garcia and Valasco then carried Rodas-Alfaro, who was the mother of a boy who is now 3 years old, out of the house and drove off.
Ahumada said he didn't stop the two men from abducting Rodas-Alfaro because Garcia was armed with two guns and at one point mockingly asked him what he was going to do to stop the attack.
He testified that he was stunned about what was happening to Rodas-Alfaro, but that he didn't think she would be killed.
"I didn't think it would go down like that," he said.
Rodas' body was found at about 4:40 a.m. that day in the 5800 block of Ivanhoe Road in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood, near a state Highway 24 off-ramp, after a resident called police to report a burning body in the street.
In addition to the murder charge and the special-circumstance allegation, Valasco and Garcia are charged with desecrating human remains and evading police officers.
Garcia is also charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and of having six prior felony convictions, an allegation that could add to his prison sentence if he is convicted.
His prior convictions include evading an officer, possession of a firearm by a felon, receiving stolen property, car theft and possession of a controlled substance.
The special-circumstances allegations mean that Valasco and Garcia could face the death penalty if they are convicted, but prosecutors haven't yet made a decision about seeking the death penalty.
When police interviewed the two men after they were arrested, Valasco admitted to helping Garcia kill Rodas-Alfaro but Garcia denied any involvement in the crime, according to a probable cause statement filed in court by Nowak and Sgt. Sean Fleming.