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2 Reputedly Hunted Targets for Slaying

Times Staff Writer

Two San Diego men charged with the slayings of a pair of Mexican laborers scouted the murder site before and after the killings in search of other targets, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

But A. David Stutz, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said after a Thursday hearing that the two had not found other prospective victims.

“If not for fate, there may have been other victims,” said Stutz, who has characterized the two suspects as “aspiring Rambos.”

The two men were killed Nov. 9 along an isolated stretch of Black Mountain Road, in a largely rural area frequented by migrant laborers seeking work in nearby fields and nurseries. They were shot a total of 11 times with a South Korean-made semiautomatic assault rifle, say authorities, who have recovered the weapon.

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Denied Bail Reduction

At Wednesday’s hearing, Municipal Court Judge Charles L. Patrick refused to lower the $250,000 bail of one of the suspects, Dennis Bencivenga. 19.

Mark McBride, the lawyer representing Bencivenga, asked that bail be reduced to $50,000. The lawyer cited the suspect’s ties to the community and the fact that Bencivenga himself had come forward Jan. 13 and told of his alleged involvement in the killings, providing authorities a crucial break in what had been a stalled investigation.

Bencivenga’s father testified that he would ensure that his son appeared for all court hearings and comply with other legal restrictions if he were freed on bail. The suspect’s grandmother and two friends were also in the courtroom. The tall, stocky suspect, wearing jail-issue blues, did not speak during the session. But Stutz, the prosecutor, noting that the two victims were killed “without any reason,” argued that bail should not be lowered.

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Preliminary Hearing Set

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for May 1.

Authorities have charged that the other suspect, Kenneth Kovzelove, 17, who is in the custody of juvenile authorities, was the triggerman. A hearing is scheduled April 14 in Juvenile Court to determine if Kovzelove, who turns 18 in July, should be tried as an adult.

In the adult system, Kovzelove, like Bencivenga, could face up to life in prison on a first-degree murder charge. He can only be held until age 25 in the juvenile system.

Both suspects were arrested last week--Bencivenga at his home in San Diego, Kovzelove at Ft. Benning, Ga., where he was in training as an Army paratrooper.

Stutz, the prosecutor, said it is “very unlikely” that the death penalty will be sought for Bencivenga. Because Kovzelove is a minor, he cannot be sentenced to death.

The two victims have been identified by the coroner’s office as Hilario Casteneda Salgado, 22, and Matilde Macedo de la Sancha, 19, both citizens of Mexico. Both were said to have lived in the bush near the slaying site.


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