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Police Release Man Hours After His Arrest in Slaying

Times Staff Writers

Just hours after his much-publicized arrest, Santa Ana police Wednesday released a man they had suspected of abducting and murdering a 9-year-old schoolgirl.

Police said Jose Antonio Gonzalez, 27, of Garden Grove had an alibi, substantiated by friends, showing that he was not at the street corner where Nadia Puente was abducted Monday, said Santa Ana Police Capt. James L. Dittman.

Gonzalez was released about 2:30 p.m., less than five hours after officers arrested him as he left his apartment. Police announced his arrest at an 11 a.m. news conference, saying that a wealth of physical evidence linked Gonzalez to Nadia’s slaying.

The fourth-grader’s body was found stuffed in a trash can near the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles early Tuesday morning.

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Although police originally believed she had been strangled, an autopsy Wednesday determined the cause of death was asphyxia due to chest compression. The chest apparently was compressed against a solid object, the report by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said. There also was evidence of sexual molestation, a coroner’s office spokesman said without elaborating.

Police said Wednesday they believe Nadia’s abductor lured her into his car, described by witnesses as silver with black stripes on the sides, by posing as a teacher who needed help with his books. Dittman said a man “had approached other people (children) the same day, using the same ruse.”

Dittman said Gonzalez is a waiter and worked until 2 p.m. on the day of the abduction “but that’s not his alibi.” Dittman would not reveal where Gonzalez was at the actual time of the abduction, although he said there were “multiple people who were with him.”

Still, Dittman said, “we have to do some additional work on his alibi” and that police “haven’t ruled him out completely.”

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At the morning press conference, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters said he was “very, very confident that this is the person that perpetrated this crime.”

Dittman in the afternoon press conference defended the department’s arrest, saying the earlier evidence “was so strong in pointing to Mr. Gonzalez (that) we would have been derelict not to” arrest him.

Further, police released a composite drawing of the suspect that differs slightly from the original description of the man seen by other schoolchildren when he lured Nadia into his car. The earlier description was of a Latino man with short dark curly hair and a goatee. The new drawing shows a man with straight hair, feathery bangs and clean-shaven. The discrepancy, Dittman said, came about because police are dealing with “multiple witnesses with numerous descriptions.”

Asked if the release of Gonzalez meant that police were back to square one in their investigation, Dittman said, “Not at all.”


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