Bay City News Service—A witness Tuesday described the beginning of a gruesome incident in Oakland last year in which two suspected gang members are accused of beating a 21-year-old woman to death, dumping her body near a freeway offramp in Rockridge and then setting it on fire.
Pablo Ahumada, 31, testified that Salvador Valasco, 23, and Hector Garcia, 32, abducted Monica Rodas-Alfaro from a house at Coolidge and Nicol avenues in East Oakland shortly after midnight on July 14, 2011, after Valasco had bound her hands with plastic, gagged her mouth and covered her head with a sweater.
Ahumada, who was the prosecution's first witness in the preliminary hearing for Valasco and Garcia, said initially "the atmosphere was good" when a small group of people gathered at the house during a night of smoking methamphetamine and marijuana but after he went outside to urinate he heard screaming and arguing.
He said when he went back inside, he saw Valasco, who he said was Rodas-Alfaro's boyfriend, sitting on top of her and "talking smack." Ahumada, who initially was a suspect in the case but was never charged, said that at a later point, Garcia grabbed a torch and told Rodas-Alfaro, "Bitch, I'll burn you." He said Garcia and Valasco then carried Rodas-Alfaro, a Union City woman who was the mother of a boy who's now 3 years old, out of the house and drove off.
Ahumada didn't testify about a possible motive for the attack, but later in the day Oakland police Sgt. Steve Nowak testified that Ahumada told him in an interview that Garcia and Valasco were asking Rodas-Alfaro if she knew who had robbed Garcia in a previous incident.
Rodas' body was found at about 4:40 a.m. on July 14, 2011, in the 5800 block of Ivanhoe Road, off Chabot Road in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood, near a state Highway 24 offramp.
Valasco and Garcia are both charged with murder plus the special circumstance of committing a murder during the course of a kidnapping. They're also charged with desecrating human remains and evading police officers.
In addition, Garcia is 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 won't make a decision about seeking the death penalty until after the preliminary hearing. The hearing is to determine if there's enough evidence to have Valasco and Garcia stand trial.
According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Nowak and Sgt. Sean Fleming, after the two suspects were arrested Garcia denied any knowledge of the crime but Valasco admitted his involvement and said he bound Rodas-Alfaro's hands, gagged her mouth and put a sweater over her. Valasco said Garcia threatened to burn Rodas-Alfaro with a blowtorch and slapped her, according to the statement.
Witnesses said Garcia kicked Rodas-Alfaro while she was bound and gagged, the court document said. Valasco and Garcia then walked Rodas-Alfaro to a car, put her in the trunk and drove her to another location, where she was killed, the police investigators said.
The two men next drove Rodas-Alfaro's body to Ivanhoe Road, where they dumped and burned it, according to the statement. Police first tried to arrest Valasco and Garcia on July 17, 2011, but they fled in separate cars. Officers were finally able to arrest them two days later after a brief foot chase.
Ahumada said Garcia "was my connection" for buying methampetamine and admitted that he smoked a lot of the drug that night. Asked by Garcia's lawyer, William DuBois, if he owed $1,000 to Garcia, Ahumada said he had erased his debt by arranging for a friend to do extensive interior work on Garcia's car.
Nowak said an autopsy determined Rodas-Alfaro died from blunt force trauma to her head, skull and brain and that she was burned after she already was dead.
The hearing for Garcia and Valasco will resume on Wednesday morning and is expected to conclude on Thursday.
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