The live-in maid of a veteran Woodland Hills movie producer whose bludgeoned body was found in his burning car two months ago was arraigned Wednesday on a murder charge.
Mayra Melenez Lopez, 25, a Salvadoran who is an undocumented alien here, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of beating her employer, former 20th Century Fox executive Herbert Wallerstein, 59, to death with a baseball bat, police detectives said.
Lopez pleaded innocent to the murder charge Wednesday in Van Nuys Municipal Court. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 11.
Saying it might affect the investigation, Los Angeles Police Detective Joseph Diglio refused to disclose a motive, although he ruled out robbery.
“The motive is not all that unusual given the set of circumstances,” Diglio told a press conference. “She was our prime suspect from the outset.”
However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Consiglio said Lopez, who had worked for the Wallerstein family for 6 1/2 years, told investigators she acted in self-defense when Wallerstein returned home Sept. 27 from a supermarket trip. Consiglio said the maid told police that Wallerstein was in a foul mood, kicked the dog and then attacked her.
After Wallerstein died, according to Consiglio, Lopez said she called her boyfriend, who helped her carry Wallerstein’s body to the victim’s car and place it in the back seat. Wallerstein’s body was found by firefighters in the burning car in the 5000 block of Boda Place, about a quarter mile from his home, on Sept. 29. Witnesses told police they saw a woman fitting Lopez’s description fleeing from the scene.
Diglio confirmed that Wallerstein was killed in his home and said there was evidence of a struggle in the room in which the slaying took place.
Lopez was arrested after several objects--including the murder weapon, Wallerstein’s wallet, identification and credit cards--connecting the woman to her employer’s death were found buried near the Wallerstein home, Diglio said. She continued to work for the family, with whom she maintained a good relationship, until the day of her arrest, the detective said.
Wallerstein’s wife and son were in Mexico when the producer was killed and when Lopez was arrested, police said.
Detectives said no other suspects are being sought in the death but the investigation is continuing.
Wallerstein resigned last winter as senior vice president of feature film production at 20th Century Fox.