Jury to Decide if Neighbor Murdered Carson Woman
By all accounts, Lisa Marie Gonzales and Anthony Herrera knew each other only in passing. Although they had lived next door to each other in Carson for more than three years, they usually did not say much more than hello.
When Gonzales, 20, was stabbed and beaten to death a little more than a year ago, police said that at first there was no reason to suspect Herrera.
But this week in Compton Superior Court, a jury must decide if Herrera was merely a passive observer--the man who discovered his neighbor’s body--or the one who carried out the savage attack.
If convicted of first-degree murder, the 29-year-old construction worker could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is also on trial for second-degree murder in the death of the 25-week-old fetus that Gonzales was carrying at the time. That charge carries a term of 15 years to life in prison.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Pam Frohreich told the jury in closing arguments Friday that the encounter between neighbors began with Herrera’s opportunistic advances and ended with an attempted rape and murder.
The pregnant woman’s fiancee, Michael Corcoran, had been out of town for three days on April 24 of last year, Frohreich said. Herrera arrived home after a night of softball and drunken carousing with his buddies to find that Corcoran’s pickup was not parked in front of the home.
“He had never had the opportunity, until this occasion,” said Frohreich, “when it appeared Michael had abandoned her for a few days. . . . He is drunk as a skunk and the beautiful young girl who lives next door is alone for the third night.”
Frohreich theorized that Gonzales let Herrera, 29, into her home for a friendly visit, but that he made advances. “When she turned him down,” Frohreich said, “you’ve got the tender male ego. And he started to beat her.”
Herrera was connected to the crime when witnesses told sheriff’s investigators that his left palm was cut and his arms were covered with scratches.
Frohreich said Herrera tried to wash off at Gonzales’ kitchen sink, but instead left several drops of his own blood. The defendant had stabbed with such force with a kitchen knife that the knife broke and cut his own palm, the prosecutor said.
An expert testified that the blood type left by the sink, which matches Herrera’s, is found in only one in 1,000 people.
Investigators said footprints in Gonzales’ blood were made by tennis shoes, just like the ones Herrera wore. And, the prosecutor said, two bite marks on the woman’s chest matched Herrera’s unusual teeth.
Near the end of the monthlong trial, Herrera took the stand to offer an explanation for the circumstantial evidence.
He conceded that he had gone to his neighbor’s house the night of the killing, but only to see what was happening after his mother told him there had been a commotion next door.
Inside, Herrera said he found Gonzales’ body, which he nudged with his foot to confirm that she was dead.
He said that he may have left blood by the kitchen sink, but that his palm had been cut earlier in the evening as he slid into second base during his softball game.
Herrera said he did not call the police after making the grisly discovery, because he had smoked cocaine with a friend and worried that he could be arrested for using the drug. The friend, Randy Williams, corroborated Herrera’s story, saying the defendant was at his house smoking cocaine at the hour the murder was committed.
“I’m not trying to tell you that Tony Herrera is a prince, or a perfect human being,” said his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Ary DeGroot. ". . . He goes over and discovers a body. He says, ‘Oh my God, what should I do.’ He is scared.”
Herrera’s and Gonzales’ families watched the closing arguments, often holding back tears.
Herrera’s sister, Becky Wing, said her brother is a peaceful man who enjoys surfing, skiing and working out. “My brother just does not have the anger in him to do this type of thing,” she said.”
Joyce Dickman said the anguish over the death of her daughter, who had once modeled and was working in the mail room for Northrop Corp., is magnified because the Sheriff’s Department was called the night of the killing but never came to her daughter’s home.
The body wasn’t discovered until the next morning, when Gonzales failed to report for work and her mother called the Carson Sheriff’s Station.
Ironically, it was Herrera’s mother, Angela, who had called the station the night before. A tape recording of the telephone call shows that Angela Herrera said she heard a struggle next door and gave a sheriff’s official an address on Water Street, but eventually hung up after being put on hold, according to several courtroom observers who heard the tape. The address Angela Herrera gave was off by one digit, the observers said.
Superior Court Judge Madge S. Watai, who is presiding in the case, declined to let a reporter listen to the tape recording of the phone call, which was entered into evidence in the murder trial.
Dickman said she plans to sue Los Angeles County and the Sheriff’s Department for wrongful death.
“If they had sent a unit right out, I feel that my daughter and my granddaughter would be alive today,” Dickman said in an interview.
Officials in the Los Angeles County counsel’s office could not be reached for comment.