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Hammer Victims Identified Wrong Man, Defense Says

Times Staff Writer

The trial of a former mental patient accused of attacking two teen-agers with a hammer as they sat on a curb in Granada Hills opened Friday with an attempt by the defendant’s lawyer to demonstrate a case of mistaken identity.

Rodolfo Aguero, 34, of Granada Hills is charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the July 8, 1988, attack on the teen-agers.

The non-jury trial before San Fernando Superior Court Judge John P. Farrell began with the testimony of Jackson Utley, 18, of Huntington Beach.

Utley identified Aguero as the man who approached him and his girlfriend, Kelly McClure, 19, as they sat with her head resting on his shoulder.

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“He seemed to be looking down at us,” Utley testified. “I turned around, and as soon as I turned, I was struck.”

Utley pointed to the back of his head to show Farrell where he had been hit. He said he thought that the attacker hit him four times and hit McClure twice before fleeing. Utley said McClure, who is expected to testify next week, became unconscious after murmuring, “Jack, are you there? Are you there? Where are you?”

But during cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Nelda K. Barrett focused on discrepancies between Aguero’s physical appearance and descriptions Utley gave to police as he lay in a hospital bed recovering from his head wounds. She noted that Utley had said his attacker had a fat stomach and a receding hairline. Aguero is not fat and does not have a receding hairline.

Time of Assault

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Barrett also pointed out that at a preliminary hearing last year, Utley testified that the attack took place at 9:30 p.m., when it presumably would have been dark. In response to Deputy Dist. Atty. Daniel M. Greller’s questions Friday, Utley said the attack occurred about half an hour earlier.

Utley, however, was steadfast in his identification of Aguero.

“When I looked around, I got a good look at him” for at least three seconds, Utley said. He said he had absolutely no doubt that Aguero was the man who beat him and McClure.

Utley and McClure are still recovering from their head wounds. Utley testified that his left leg is still numb and his hands are insensitive to pain. “I have a great paranoia about going out at night or going out alone,” he said. “I can’t comprehend regular schoolwork. . . . I can’t remember a lot of things that happened to me before the attack.”

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Authorities have not determined a motive for the attack. At Aguero’s preliminary hearing, a Los Angeles police detective testified that Aguero told investigators that a voice told him to punish someone who was laughing at him.

Earlier this month, Barrett said in court that Aguero does not intend to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. She said he decided not to enter that plea after she advised him of the risks of pursuing that strategy.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.


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