Accused killer David Alvarez was ordered to stand trial Thursday on charges of murder and attempted rape after a judge found sufficient evidence that he strangled Oak View teen Kali Manley during a sexual assault last winter.
"This young lady was in a fight," said Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger. "She struggled. The evidence shows the defendant was the person she struggled with."
Standing outside the courtroom, defense attorney James M. Farley expressed disappointment, saying he plans to file a motion to dismiss the attempted rape charge and a special allegation that make his 22-year-old client eligible for the death penalty.
"There is no, absolutely no, evidence of an attempted, forcible rape," Farley said, citing testimony by the county's medical examiner. "None."
A 14-year-old Nordhoff High School freshman, Manley's bruised and naked body was uncovered inside a drain pipe in the mountains above Ojai on Dec. 26, a week after she was reported missing from a girlfriend's house in Ojai.
Evidence presented this week at Alvarez's preliminary hearing showed that around midnight Manley left the house with Alvarez and another man, neither of whom she knew. They bought wine coolers at a convenience store and then went to the defendant's trailer.
There, Manley and Alvarez retreated to a back bedroom with the beverages. She was not seen alive again, and Alvarez eventually led authorities to her corpse.
Although the medical examiner found no signs of sexual trauma or sperm during an autopsy, state prosecutors argued that Manley was choked to death while trying to defend herself from Alvarez's sexual advances.
To support the charge, Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Katz noted that Manley's body was found nude, and he pointed to a statement Alvarez made to his friend, Robert Miears, before the slaying about how he intended to have sex with the girl.
But Farley argued that the statement alone is not evidence of attempted rape. As for the nudity, he said Manley could have undressed voluntarily. Citing a lack of physical evidence, he asked Cloninger to dismiss the charge and special allegation, which could spare his client's life.
But the judge said bruises, broken fingernails and scrapes found on the girl's body suggest Alvarez attempted to force sex with her and she tried to stop him.
The judge also speculated that Manley may not have gone willingly with Alvarez and Miears. Two witnesses who saw Manley at the convenience store told authorities she looked scared.
"That causes one to wonder whether she was a willing participant of anything that night," Cloninger said.
He then ordered Alvarez to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted rape, as well as the special allegation that Manley was murdered during the commission of an attempted rape.
Dressed in a blue jail uniform, Alvarez turned and looked sadly at his parents after the ruling. Katz smiled and shook hands with the victim's father.
State prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty, and Katz refused to comment Thursday on when such a decision might be announced.
Alvarez was also ordered Thursday to stand trial on a separate felony charge of making terrorist threats to a woman he encountered at the convenience store the night of the slaying.
In that incident, Alvarez allegedly flashed a gun at Kim Schmeltz and made a violent remark as the woman drove out of the parking lot with her 18-year-old son. Alvarez, who knew Schmeltz's children, was driving away at the same time with Miears and Manley in his truck.
A second threat charge stemming from the same incident was dropped by the prosecution. And a charge accusing Alvarez of assault with a deadly weapon was dismissed by Cloninger for lack of evidence.
The judge suggested the charge should have been for brandishing a weapon, not assault with one, because there was no evidence Alvarez pointed a firearm at Schmeltz or her son.
Alvarez is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 12 on the remaining counts. His murder trial is expected to begin in October.
In the meantime, Farley said he intends to file a motion for a change of venue, suggesting that publicity has tainted the prospective jury pool in Ventura County.