Gladis Barreras Soto was beaten, threatened and insulted by her husband throughout their 15-year marriage, but witnesses testified Thursday that she reported such incidents to authorities only a few times.
Soto, 38, is facing a single murder charge after she confessed to fatally shooting spouse Pedro Alba on Feb. 20 after he allegedly raped her. She later dismembered his body and tried to burn the remains, authorities said.
Although Soto has admitted to the killing, defense attorneys say she is not guilty of murder.
They contend she was a victim of extensive domestic abuse who lashed out in an attempt to end the violence. At most, they argue, she should be facing a charge of voluntary manslaughter.
During the second day of Soto's preliminary hearing in Ventura County Superior Court, the defense questioned a friend, a probation officer and various police officers to show a pattern of domestic violence.
Longtime friend Anna Maria Lopez discussed details of the couple's stormy relationship.
She recalled an incident around 1987 in which Alba, who also used the name Pedro Alba Barragan, allegedly beat Soto while she was pregnant with their first child.
"It was the first time I heard about the abuse," Lopez testified. "She told me he had hit her and kicked her in the stomach."
Soto, who was about seven months pregnant at the time, spent the night on Lopez's couch after the alleged beating, Lopez said.
The friend also recalled an occasion in which Soto told her Alba had intentionally rammed her with a car when he was angry and broke her leg. The couple were living in Los Angeles at the time.
They later moved to Oxnard. At the time of Alba's slaying, they were sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Ventura with their five children.
Lopez, a Los Angeles resident, recalled a conversation with Soto before the family moved to Ventura County.
Alba had been keeping company with other women, drinking alcohol and using drugs, Lopez said. But Soto told her that her husband had started going to church and had promised to change his ways, she said.
It was a pattern other witnesses also described for Superior Court Judge Charles. W. Campbell Jr.
Ventura County Probation Officer Isaiah Muro monitored the couple's turbulent relationship for more than a year after Alba was convicted of spousal battery in 1996.
In subsequent months, the couple would go through stretches of time where there were no reports of violence, then Alba would allegedly abuse his wife, Muro said.
One time, Muro reported Alba for a probation violation after Soto complained that her husband insulted her and shoved her up against a stove.
Three months before the slaying, Soto said her husband was "acting up" again. Soto called Muro a month later and told him she was afraid of Alba and wanted to get a restraining order against him, he said.
"She said she's been dealing with the abuse for 15 years and she wanted a divorce," Muro testified.
But instead of seeking a divorce, Soto purchased a gun and on Feb. 20 shot her husband once in the head while he was sleeping, authorities said.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Patricia Murphy asked Ventura Police Officer Patrick Stevens about an interview he had with one of Alba's co-workers.
The co-worker said Alba knew his wife had bought a gun and was scared, Stevens said.
"Pedro told the friend that one of these days she was going to use it on him and his girlfriend," Stevens testified.
Prosecutors have also charged Soto with deadly assault for a Jan. 10 incident in which she allegedly rammed her car into her husband's van while he was parked at his girlfriend's house in Oxnard.
Soto believed Maria Ortega, who was in the van with Alba at the time, was having an affair with her husband. She later admitted to slamming into the van in an interview with police and in a conversation with Lopez.
"She called me a few weeks later and she was upset," Lopez testified. "She told me she had been in jail because she crashed her car into his car."
The hearing is scheduled to resume today with testimony from an expert on battered women's syndrome.