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Griffith Park body parts: Man pleads not guilty to boyfriend's murder

A man accused of killing his boyfriend and scattering his severed head, feet and hands below the Hollywood sign pleaded not guilty Monday to murder.

Monday marked the first court appearance for Gabriel Campos-Martinez, 38, in connection with the 2012 death of Hervey Medellin, 66. Los Angeles detectives arrested Campos-Martinez in San Antonio -- where he had been living -- on March 10. Prosecutors charged him with murder a day later.

If convicted, Campos-Martinez faces 25 years to life in state prison, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said. He was due back in court April 16 but remained in custody in lieu of $1-million bail.

Dog walkers discovered Medellin's head wrapped in a plastic bag along a Bronson Canyon trail in January  2012, prompting an extensive search of the stretch of Griffith Park. Medellin's right hand and feet were found a day later in a shallow grave; his left hand just hours after that.

It remains unclear where Medellin was killed. Authorities said the rest of his body has not been recovered.

A Los Angeles County coroner's examination noted Medellin probably died of asphyxia and neck compression, but officials said it was unclear what other injuries the 66-year-old sustained because only his head, hands and feet were found.

The autopsy noted Medellin's body was likely cut apart with a saw. Coroner's officials also wrestled with a prosecutor's question of whether his remains were frozen before they were dumped in Griffith Park, given the lack of decomposition and time that had elapsed from when authorities believe he was killed.

But ultimately a forensic anthropologist consulting on the case wrote that the theory could not be "supported or refuted" with the limited photographic evidence available. 

Authorities believe Medellin was killed Dec. 27, 2011, three weeks before his head was found, Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace said.

Grace, who flew to Texas with LAPD's robbery-homicide detectives to make the arrest, said the motive was "due to the relationship" between the men. Campos-Martinez may have learned Medellin was about to break off the relationship, Grace said.

"Somehow, either directly or indirectly, he may have gotten the hint he wasn't going to be around and that triggered him to do this," Grace said.

Medellin wasn't reported missing until Jan. 16, when detectives at the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood station received an anonymous tip that Medellin hadn't returned from a trip to Mexico, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in connection with the case.

A detective went to the apartment Medellin shared with Campos-Martinez and asked him to file a missing persons report at the LAPD's Hollywood Division, court records said. Campos-Martinez returned to the station later in the day "crying uncontrollably" and asked to see a copy of the report.

Medellin's head was found the next day, court records said. 

There was "no evidence" Medellin had ever gone to Mexico, Grace said. The prosecutor said Campos-Martinez made other statements to investigators "not matching the facts" of the case.

The affidavit also said Campos-Martinez made "inconsistent and suspicious statements" to police two days after Medellin's head was found. A polygraph test revealed he was "deceitful of dismembering the victim's body and having knowledge of the victim's murder," the court records say.

Grace said Campos-Martinez moved to San Antonio, where his extended family lives, about a year after Medellin's death. He married a woman there, the prosecutor said, and worked concessions at the San Antonio Convention Center.

"He built a new life for himself," Grace said.

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Twitter: @katemather | Google+
kate.mather@latimes.com

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