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A Chilling Picture of Accused Killer

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Accused rapist and killer Vincent Sanchez methodically studied his victims before he allegedly attacked them. But he became increasingly violent and reckless as his personal life fell apart and the attacks increased.

That picture of Sanchez emerges in 1,145 pages of Ventura County Grand Jury testimony that tells a chilling story of an alleged crime spree that terrified Simi Valley residents for five years and escalated to the slaying of 20-year-old Moorpark College student Megan Barroso.

According to the transcripts, Sanchez, 31, made the effort to learn the names of some of his alleged victims. He allegedly videotaped one 15-year-old through her bedroom window as she changed into pajamas before attacking her.

He often threatened his victims by mentioning a family member, the transcripts state.

“Do you want me to kill your grandmother?” he told one woman as he covered her mouth to stifle her screams, the testimony states.

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Sanchez’s alleged five-year hunt for victims across Simi Valley and the western San Fernando Valley was revealed in more detail last week when the grand jury testimony finally became public.

Prosecutors say the unemployed carpenter targeted 15 women beginning in September 1996 and ending with the kidnap and rape of a Woodland Hills woman July 9. That was five days after he allegedly gunned down Barroso as she drove home from a Fourth of July party.

Sanchez, arrested in late July, faces trial on multiple sexual-assault charges and a first-degree murder count that could bring him the death penalty.

He has pleaded guilty to some of the assaults and his attorney has suggested he may admit to killing Barroso. But defense lawyer Neil Quinn has argued that Sanchez did not attempt to rape Barroso and thus should not face a possible death sentence in the case.

The transcripts show a brazen Sanchez, who allegedly broke into homes in the middle of the night by prying off window screens, breaking windows or slipping through sliding-glass doors.

Startled by a noise at 4 a.m., one woman, according to the transcripts, awoke to see a knife blade poking through her bedroom door jamb, working its way up toward her hook-and-eye lock. As she frantically tried to call 911, a man in a ski mask rushed in, covered her mouth and held the blade to her throat.

He allegedly marched her, crouching, to a hallway window and tried to pull her through. But he fled when the woman screamed and her mother rushed to her aid.

Authorities say a pair of the woman’s turquoise panties was later found among Sanchez’s possessions. According to the transcripts, he grabbed “trophies” such as underwear, jewelry and cameras from many of the crime scenes.

Sanchez allegedly took sexually explicit pictures of some of the women, their faces shrouded by a hood. A man’s shadowy figure, clad in a black ski mask and leather gloves, appears on some videotapes shot during the assaults.

“Make it sound good,” the man ordered one of the victims.

The transcripts chronicle desperate--and sometimes effective--resistance from a number of Sanchez’s alleged victims, who testified before the grand jury between Aug. 16 and Sept. 4.

One said she had flailed at her attacker as he allegedly straddled her, reaching under his ski mask to scratch him with her fingernails.

“I screamed and screamed very loud and he proceeded to try to exit my bedroom,” the victim told the grand jury. “I saw he was fumbling with the doorknob, and I decided I wasn’t gonna let him just walk out of the house. I proceeded to jump onto him, to jump onto his back and try to find out who he was.”

One woman who had taken self-defense training became combative with her attacker. As she lay on her bed, she pulled her legs up and kicked her attacker’s chest so hard that he fell back into a closet. They struggled. He ran down a hall and fled.

Sanchez allegedly surprised one victim by tackling her in the hallway of her home. She kicked him and bit his finger, but he beat her with his fists, slammed her face with an empty beer bottle and choked her until she passed out, according to the transcripts.

Regaining consciousness, she grabbed a family photograph in an oak frame.

“I just hit him on top of the head as hard as I could, and he stuttered and stumbled,” the woman told jurors.

When her attacker saw her brandishing a metal lamp, he capitulated.

“OK, OK, you win,” he said. “I just have to find my mask.”

After the attacks, according to the transcripts, Sanchez would sometimes try to soothe his victims, cuddling and whispering encouragement.

“You seem like a very good girl,” the transcripts state he told one frightened woman he had allegedly taken from Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley and allegedly raped in his Simi Valley home. “You seem very pure. I can’t believe I picked up someone as pretty as you.”

Sanchez was “obsessed” with keeping his identity secret, prosecutor Lela Henke-Dobroth told jurors.

As the attacker raped the women, he kept their heads under a pillow. On several occasions he kidnapped his victims, driving them to his home or in one case to a dirt trail in the hills of Simi Valley. In those instances, he covered their heads with a sweatshirt.

Because he didn’t have sexual intercourse with all his victims, transcripts state, Sanchez allegedly tried to minimize his attacks in a phone conversation from the Ventura County Jail to his former girlfriend.

“I didn’t rape all of ‘em,” the transcripts state. “I just raped five or six of ‘em.”

The man who became known as the Simi Valley rapist was one of eight children raised by Margaret and Mariano Sanchez, say acquaintances interviewed by The Times earlier this year.

He Served Time for Child Abuse

Mariano Sanchez worked in the construction business and both parents appeared to be strict but loving with the children, according to acquaintances.

But Vincent Sanchez had problems, dropping out of his Simi Valley high school. At 21, he moved to Lancaster and began a stormy relationship with a 17-year-old woman who had a child with another man.

They fought about the 1-year-old girl, court documents show, and in March 1992 both were charged with child abuse when the baby was rushed to Palmdale Hospital struggling to breathe. Sanchez served less than two years in prison for the offense.

He moved back to Simi Valley after his release and began working in the construction business. In late 1995, Sanchez was injured in a crane accident and was awarded a sizable workers’ compensation settlement.

After that, he never seemed to work much, Sanchez’s roommates told the grand jury. During this time, Sanchez began dating Ojai resident Luz LaFarga. It is also the period when the rapes began.

His relationship with LaFarga, who was about 10 years older and had four children, was volatile, according to testimony.

Sanchez was jealous and obsessive with her, LaFarga said, sometimes driving to her home unannounced just to make sure she was there. Things deteriorated last winter, she said. Sanchez had broken into LaFarga’s home once late at night, she said, and was peeping through windows on other occasions.

One night in December, LaFarga told grand jurors, Sanchez wielded a sword and fled before police arrived. LaFarga went to court to obtain a restraining order against Sanchez. The spiraling threats, and an apparent suicide note found by Sanchez’s half-brother, Anthony Lopez, prompted his family to seek help.

In January, Lopez took Sanchez to Ventura County Medical Center, where he was treated for depression for 18 days, Lopez testified. Lopez, a career Marine Corps sergeant, later arranged a meeting between Sanchez and LaFarga in an effort to settle their differences.

While the couple was talking, Lopez searched his brother’s vehicle and found a black ski mask, gloves, handcuffs, ammunition--and a bag of female garments, Lopez told the grand jury. Lopez confronted Sanchez and demanded to know whether he also had a firearm. Sanchez reluctantly took him to a nearby trash dumpster, where he had stashed a shotgun, Lopez testified.

Lopez testified he thought the items were related to Sanchez’s threats against Luz, so didn’t question his brother on why he had them.

Sanchez seemed to settle down for a few months, and during this time the attacks had stopped. But after five sexual assaults were reported in 2000, there were none through the first six months of this year.

But Sanchez never stopped calling LaFarga, and in June she finally made it clear that things were over between them. Sanchez went into a tailspin, neighbor George Fernandez said.

Sanchez Was Depressed Over Failed Relationship

One night, Fernandez and Sanchez shared several beers while sitting on the lawn outside Sanchez’s house, the neighbor testified. Sanchez began crying, telling Fernandez how he had recently held his roommate’s AK-47 assault rifle to his mouth as he contemplated suicide.

He was depressed over his failed relationship with LaFarga, Fernandez said, and over something he could not tell his friend of six years about.

“He started crying, telling me that he almost killed himself and that he needed to get off the streets because he needed to go to jail,” Fernandez testified.

When Fernandez pressed for details, believing Sanchez was talking about his threats against LaFarga, Sanchez was again vague.

“He said that he’s done stuff that I wouldn’t believe--if I found out then I would call the police on him,” Fernandez said.

On July 4, Sanchez was drinking beers at home again, chatting with neighbors and his half-brother, Lopez. He did not seem unduly stressed, say neighbors who watched fireworks with him.

In the early morning, Sanchez apparently slipped into the night driving a dark-green Ford Ranger, say witnesses who noticed the vehicle was gone.

Across town in Newbury Park, Megan Barroso was also enjoying the holiday. She had spent the evening at a barbecue and later, watching fireworks at Silver Strand beach, her best friend, Lindsay Gross, told the grand jury.

One of Barroso’s friends had brought a container of red glitter and playfully tossed some on Barroso’s head. At 2:45 a.m., Barroso kissed Lindsay goodbye and headed toward her Moorpark home.

She never made it. Prosecutors say Sanchez fired the AK-47 he had allegedly stolen from his roommate and that one of the bullets ripped through Barroso’s car and into her abdomen.

County Medical Examiner Ronald O’Halloran testified Barroso probably did not die immediately, instead bleeding internally for minutes or even hours.

Forensic scientists later found evidence of blood and specks of red glitter in the truck that Sanchez was driving that night. Roommates said Sanchez appeared to have scratches on his face the next day and that he became very withdrawn, only coming out of his room at night.

Sanchez was arrested on suspicion of burglarizing a neighbor’s home. While in custody, authorities said, Sanchez called one of his roommates and asked him to get rid of a bag he had placed in a recycling bin outside their Woodrow Avenue home.

Inside the bag, the roommate found photographs and videos of naked women bound and gagged, authorities said. Women’s underwear and jewelry also were found in the bag. A roommate immediately called 911.

Barroso’s body was found Aug. 4 at the bottom of a 50-foot ravine in Black Canyon, just outside Simi Valley city limits. It was clad in a T-shirt and panties, with twine near the neck and waist, forensic officials said.

O’Halloran testified he was unable to examine for sexual assault because the body was badly decomposed.

Henke-Dobroth told grand jurors that Sanchez had intended to kidnap and rape Barroso and decided to kill her because she could identify him.

“Unlike the other victims, she was the only one who would have been able to describe his physical characteristics, see his face and describe the pickup truck that he was driving,” Henke-Dobroth told grand jurors. “Thus, he carried out the threat he had made to the others and Megan did not survive the attack.”


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