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Alleged Killer Portrayed as Manipulator of the Justice System : Courts: Testimony claims Anna Alfaro, 20, was kidnaped, raped and fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend. Nearly five years later, suspect is bound over for trial.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

She was 20, a Reseda secretary who had just moved into her first apartment. He was 19, a reputed North Hollywood gang member known by the street name Chaka.

And now, nearly five years after she was killed on Christmas Eve, the tale of their tainted love has moved to a courtroom.

According to Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie Samuels, Ruben Dario Garcia began terrorizing Anna Alfaro after she dumped him for her high school sweetheart. And then, Samuels alleges, Garcia kidnaped, raped and killed Alfaro--firing the fatal shot into her head in front of two police officers.

One of the officers, William Merchant, testified last Friday that he’ll never forget the hopeful look in Alfaro’s eyes as the spotlight of his patrol car caught her crouching submissively in front of Garcia in an apartment building alcove.

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She turned toward the officer and their eyes met: “It was like, ‘Oh, good. The police are here.’ Then, the next second, ‘Boom!’ ” Merchant said.

After hearing two days of such testimony about Alfaro’s death, Van Nuys Municipal Court Judge Leslie Dunn this week ordered Garcia bound over for trial on charges of first-degree murder, kidnaping, rape, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

The first-degree murder charge carries three special circumstances that make Garcia eligible for the death penalty: He allegedly laid in wait for Alfaro, and he allegedly killed her during the commission of two other serious crimes--a rape and a kidnaping.

Samuels also alleged that Garcia, who had the same nickname as an infamous tagger, had manipulated the criminal justice system for years, both before and after Alfaro’s death.

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In fact, he should have been in jail for violating his probation for a 1988 auto theft conviction on the night he allegedly killed Alfaro, Samuels said. Testimony during the hearing and court records painted a picture of an abusive relationship--and of Garcia’s ability to evade the law for years.

Alfaro’s boyfriend, Luis Diaz, testified that they had just delivered Christmas gifts at the home of Alfaro’s parents in the 7000 block of Hazeltine Avenue in Van Nuys when Garcia “jumped out of the bushes,” about 10 that night, pointed a revolver at him, and grabbed her by the hair.

“He pulled the trigger two times. It clicked. Then he hit her on the head with the gun. She was scared and crying. He told her to shut up and hit her on the head with the gun,” Diaz said.

Diaz dialed 911 and the police search began.

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In court, Merchant used the detached and precise language of testimony to describe what he saw when he and the other officer spotted Alfaro and Garcia in the alcove, by an apartment garage.

“The two of them looked at us, I put the car in park, and as I was exiting the vehicle I heard a gunshot. I saw him extend his arm and fire a second round into her head. She fell back against the garage and to her right. The defendant turned the gun toward myself and my partner and fired some more rounds.”

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Merchant said he and his partner rolled for cover. He doesn’t remember drawing his gun, but he must have, he said. Merchant saw Garcia get back up, then heard him crash against some trash cans. Within seconds, he disappeared into the bushes.

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“I believed him to be up in the trees, sitting there waiting for us,” Merchant testified.

By then, five or six other squad cars were sealing off the neighborhood. A police helicopter hovered above. Merchant said he provided cover for a rescuer, who jumped out of an ambulance and who ran down the alley to check Alfaro’s condition.

“They said she was dead.”

As it has unfolded, the case has served as a tragic example of how difficult it is to protect someone from threatened violence, and how frustrating it can be to bring an accused killer to trial when states with different death penalty laws are involved.

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When Alfaro was laid to rest in what was to be her wedding dress, her story inspired news stories, editorials and official frustration over the criminal justice system’s inability to deal with domestic violence.

Court records show she had called the police on Garcia four times in the fall of 1989, but each time officers arrived, he would be gone.

She told officers he hit her, causing her to fall through a window on Sept. 12, that he bit her on Nov. 14, that he slapped her Dec. 11, and that he jumped out of the bushes and threatened her with a knife on Dec. 22. She declined to prosecute at least two of the cases, the records show, and the Dec. 22 incident was still under investigation when she died.

Although he was suspected of threatening Alfaro’s parents after her death, he proved equally elusive, Samuels said.

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He fled to New York, and he managed to slip through the cracks while being arrested five times on drug charges, using the aliases Daniel Gutierrez and Thomas Garcia. By the time New York authorities learned about the California murder warrant, Garcia was back on the street.

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Even after he was taken into custody in Brighton Beach on the warrant, New York authorities refused to return him to California until he served his time in their state, reasoning that he couldn’t finish his New York sentence if California executed him.

New York does not have the death penalty. But after Garcia completed his sentence, Samuels succeeded in having him transferred to California to stand trial. He arrived this month.

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Samuels expects even more delays. “He’s managed to use the system to keep himself out of court for a long time,” Samuels said. “I expect it will be a long time before we go to trial.”


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