Suspect Allegedly Solicited Murder : Gray Offered Him $3,000 to Kill Woman, Inmate Testifies

Times Staff Writer

An Orange County Jail inmate testified Wednesday that Robert Martin Gray Jr., charged with murder in the disappearance of his former girlfriend, Debbie Ann Lee, offered him $3,000 to kill Miss Lee the day she was last seen alive.

Richard Banuelos told Municipal Judge Floyd H. Schenk that on Aug. 1, Gray offered him the money "to blow her away" because the defendant believed he had contracted AIDS from the woman and had passed it on to his parents. Gray has been examined by doctors, who found no evidence that he has been infected with the AIDS virus.

Banuelos, testifying in Gray's preliminary hearing in West Orange County Municipal Court, said that he knew Gray only by his first name and that Gray had made the $3,000 offer in a Garden Grove bar next to Gray's radio shop.

"He said he wanted to eliminate her from the face of this earth," Banuelos said.

When Banuelos declined, Gray offered $1,000 if he would bring Miss Lee to Gray's trailer, which he kept behind the radio shop. Banuelos again declined, at which point Gray told him "he'd take care of it himself," Banuelos said.

Banuelos, who is serving time at Orange County's James A. Musick detention facility for a drunk-driving conviction, was the second witness to testify that Gray had solicited a killing. Another witness, Robert J. Estrada, Gray's former employee and the prosecution's key witness, told Judge Schenk that Gray offered him a job "forever" if he would kill Miss Lee's boyfriend, Fidel Del Rio, by hitting him with a bat.

Gray's attorney, Bruce Bridgman, initially had tried to block testimony regarding the alleged solicitations.

Wednesday's testimony was crucial to the prosecution, however, because it supports the prosecution's contention that the alleged solicitations were part of Gray's "master plan" to kill deliberately and with premeditation--two requirements for first-degree murder.

Presently, the only charge against Gray is murder, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson said he has not ruled out amending Gray's criminal complaint to include solicitation for murder.

Bridgman, in an interview during a court recess, rejected the prosecution's premeditation theory.

"It was not done with deliberate aforethought," Bridgman said. "Good grief! Why in the trailer? There's no planning here."

Police believe that Gray kidnaped Miss Lee from her residence after the two argued and that Gray then took her to his trailer, where police think she was killed.

When Gray summoned Estrada to help dispose of her body, Estrada testified, he asked Gray how she died.

"He said Debbie picked up a gun and he tried to knock it down and it went off," Estrada said, adding that, at the time, Gray had a lot of blood on his hands.

Estrada said he pleaded with Gray to notify the police.

"He said, 'They're not going to believe me--they're just going to lock me up anyways,' " Estrada said.

The hearing resumes today.

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