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Murder Suspect’s Ex-Wife Tells of Beating : Courts: The woman testifies that the accused killer of a fourth-grader tried to choke and suffocate her while in a jealous rage.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman testified Tuesday that during the six months in 1985 she lived with Richard Lucio DeHoyos, who is accused of killing 9-year-old Nadia Puente, DeHoyos tried to suffocate the woman and choke her.

DeHoyos is accused of abducting the fourth-grade student on her way home from Diamond Elementary School in Santa Ana on March 20, 1989, taking her to a motel, sexually assaulting her and killing her, either by asphyxiation or drowning. Her body was found the next day, wrapped in a bedspread and dumped in a Griffith Park trash can.

DeHoyos, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, faces the death penalty if convicted.

Speaking through a court-certified interpreter, Maria Inez Esparza, 31, testified that DeHoyos--his breath smelling of alcohol and his eyes unfocused--beat her in a jealous rage, choked her with his hands and “was suffocating me.” On several other occasions, she said, her ex-husband slapped her and called her names.

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Earlier Tuesday, DeHoyos’ defense attorney outlined his case to the jury, arguing that the asphyxiation death of Puente was the result of “severe, serious mental illness that impairs (DeHoyos’) judgment.”

Milton C. Grimes told jurors his client was subject to “sudden rages,” which the attorney said was “a symptom of this man’s mental illness.”

Grimes referred to a taped confession to the killing, given by DeHoyos to police in San Antonio, Tex., where he was arrested on April 1, 1989. On the tape, DeHoyos said he did not intend to harm the girl or sexually molest her.

The reason he lured the girl into his car and took her to the motel, Grimes said, was because he was “seeking company” and the sexual assault was “an afterthought. He did not pick her up for the primary purpose of sex.”

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Grimes said he intended to call three psychiatrists and two psychologists to testify to DeHoyos’ mental condition, which Grimes said was a result of “environmental and organic factors.”

DeHoyos has had eight instances of head trauma, Grimes said, including being thrown out of a second-story window by fellow soldiers in Panama, going through a car windshield and being hit on the head with a stick.

However, Grimes added, while there is ample evidence of violent outbursts in DeHoyos’ life, there is no evidence of any sexual involvement or preoccupation with children.

Other defense witnesses included three of DeHoyos’ co-workers at a Taco Bell in Westminster, where he was an assistant manager, who testified to DeHoyos’ difficulty accepting criticism on the job.

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Mary Ann Scott, the manager of the Taco Bell who hired DeHoyos, said that on the morning of March 20, 1989--the day Puente was abducted--she called DeHoyos in to discuss his shortcomings.

Scott said when she listed problems with his performance, he said, “I’ve had it. I’m done,” threw down his keys to the store and “stormed out the door.”


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