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Accusations of Abuse Culminated in Husband’s Slaying, Police Say

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The marriage of Pedro Alba Barragan and Gladis Barreras Soto was a domestic battleground punctuated with charges and countercharges of abuse and violence that culminated in Barragan’s slaying and dismemberment over the weekend, according to court records and police.

The 37-year-old mother of five was scheduled to appear in court just this week for allegedly trying to run down her husband and the woman with whom she thought he was having an affair.

Gladis Soto is accused of trying to ram her car into a van carrying her husband and his female friend, Maria Ortega of Oxnard, in January. Friends of the husband described Soto as a jealous woman with a vengeful streak that showed itself in threats to poison her husband if he didn’t mend his ways.

But Soto told police she had been the victim of 15 years of infidelity and physical abuse. Pushed to the limit, she said, she finally reached for a handgun and shot her husband as he slept early Saturday morning, according to police accounts.

Jorge Alvarado, the Oxnard attorney representing Soto in the assault case, said his client was a classic battered wife.

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“I have no doubt in my mind that there was a long history of both physical and psychological abuse by him against her,” Alvarado said. “I think it’s clear that a woman would not act out like this unless driven to it by his conduct.”

Soto is scheduled to be arraigned on a murder charge today. She was arrested Tuesday after a woman was seen setting fire to a trash bag near the Ventura Beach RV Park on Monday. A park security guard who put out the flames saw body parts inside and had police called.

After Barragan’s fingerprints were identified, police went to the modest apartment the family shared on West Ramona Street in a working-class section of west Ventura. Soto was arrested after police found the torso of her husband’s body in a nearby garage.

Barragan’s sister-in-law, Claudia Covarrubias, doubted that Soto was a battered wife.

“I used to defend her, but she’s lying now,” Covarrubias said from the porch of the Port Hueneme house where Barragan’s brothers gathered Wednesday. “I don’t believe she’s crazy; she planned this out. She had no right to do this to Pedro, or the children.”

According to Maria Ortega’s daughter, Mayra Ortega, 20, Soto had been harassing her family with insulting phone calls for several months. Soto believed her husband and Maria Ortega were having an affair, Mayra Ortega said.

“She called the house and would call my mom names,” Ortega said. “Sometimes I would answer the phone and she’d say those things to me. She said, ‘You better watch out, I’m going to get you.’ ”

Maria Ortega met Barragan while cutting his hair at an Oxnard salon one afternoon, Mayra Ortega said. Barragan started visiting the Ortega family regularly. He often spoke about problems with his wife, Mayra Ortega said.

“He told us she would steal money from him, sell their things, or take off with the kids and not come home for like a month,” Ortega said.

Late last year, Soto showed up at Ortega’s home and spoke to Mayra Ortega.

“She said, ‘Do you know that Pedro and your mom are together?’ ” Ortega said.

Things came to a head a few months ago, Ortega said, when Soto tried to ram her car into Pedro. “She was looking at us like she wanted to kill us with her eyes,” Mayra Ortega said.

As a result of that incident, Soto was arrested. Covarrubias said Barragan bailed his wife out of jail, against the advice of his family.

“He thought it was better for the kids to have her home,” she said. “He thought [leaving her in jail] would make them hate him. We said, ‘Leave her there. Don’t get involved in any more problems. Let her stay in jail.’ ”

Soto was ordered by the court to stay away from Ortega.

Soto and Barragan seemed very much in love when they began dating in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Covarrubias said.

They moved to Los Angeles and Barragan traded his job as a taxi driver to become a welder. Barragan and Soto dreamed of saving enough money to return to Mexico, where Soto wanted to work as a kindergarten teacher.

But in Los Angeles, their love soured, family members said.

Barragan’s family concedes he was unfaithful and dabbled in drugs and alcohol. However, they said, he had been clean for years. Looking for a fresh start, the couple moved to Ventura County in the early 1990s, but problems continued.

Soto believed her husband continued to cheat, family members said. She accused him of beating her, and said he infected two of his children with AIDS--then later recanted--and threatened to feed him rat poison, according to the dead man’s relatives.

Court records document Barragan’s violence. He was arrested in 1996 for striking his wife and was placed on probation for three years.

In August 1997, he was again arrested, this time for violating the probation order, after he allegedly shoved his wife several times and shouted obscenities at her, court records show.

Following the last incident, Soto filed for a restraining order against her husband, accusing him of beating her and using crack cocaine since he was 12. That request was denied when Soto failed to appear in court on the matter in September 1997.

According to police accounts of their conversations with Soto, she maintains that a continuing cycle of abuse and infidelity pushed her to kill her husband.

On Friday, according to the police, Barragan left the couple’s apartment about 7 p.m. and did not return until 2 a.m. Saturday. After he fell asleep, Soto’s anger peaked, she said, according to police. She picked up a small caliber handgun and fired one round into her husband’s head, police said.

She hid the corpse in a closet until 11 p.m. Saturday, police said. At that time, she dragged the body to a garage near her apartment and used an electric table saw to remove the head, legs and arms, authorities said.

She put the head, legs and arms into a black garbage bag that she set afire outside an RV park on West Main Street, according to police. A transient, however, saw the woman and ran to the RV park to get help to put out the fire, police said.

When they went to Soto’s apartment, police said, they discovered Barragan’s torso, and seized an electric saw and a small handgun.

Times staff writers Fred Alvarez and Daryl Kelley contributed to this report.


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