Murder defendant Vincent Sanchez drove alongside a steep ravine in the Simi Valley hills a week before the slaying of college student Megan Barroso and remarked to a friend that it would be a good place to hide a body, according to court testimony.
Barroso’s remains were found in a ravine southeast of the city on Aug. 4, 2001. She had died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Sanchez, 32, a former construction worker, is charged with murder, kidnapping and attempted rape in connection with the slaying and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Ventura County prosecutors are trying to prove that Sanchez, who has pleaded guilty to numerous sex assault charges involving a dozen women, tried to rape Barroso, 20, of Moorpark, after firing an assault rifle into her car on July 5, 2001.
Defense attorneys do not dispute that Sanchez shot and killed Barroso but suggest he was mentally unstable and fired during a drunken rage. They say there was no rape attempt.
On Thursday, George Fernandez, a close friend and neighbor of Sanchez, told jurors in Ventura County Superior Court that he went on an off-road ride with Sanchez about a week before Barroso’s slaying. During the ride, Fernandez said, Sanchez drove up a hill and stopped before a steep ravine, then remarked that the area would be a good place to hide a body.
Earlier that night Fernandez and Sanchez had shared a 12-pack of beer and sat in front of the defendant’s house in Simi Valley. Fernandez testified that Sanchez was depressed, drunk, tearful and talked about killing himself with a gun.
Fernandez testified that he tried to comfort Sanchez, who unbeknownst to him had raped six women at that point and had eluded authorities for five years. The defendant, Fernandez said, explained that he was having problems with his girlfriend, but there was more.
“He told me he had done a lot of things that I wouldn’t understand,” testified Fernandez, telling jurors that Sanchez told him, “If I get caught, I’m going to jail for a long time.”
Fernandez said that as he questioned his friend further, Sanchez said he had placed an AK-47 assault rifle in his mouth. Sanchez then produced the weapon from inside his Woodrow Avenue residence and proceeded to load a clip into the rifle, Fernandez testified.
Barroso was killed with the same weapon, according to earlier court testimony.
When Fernandez expressed concern that firing the rifle would draw police to the house, Sanchez responded that he could stand in the street and fire a bullet through the engine of a police car.
“He said that it would stop the car,” Fernandez said.
The testimony is potentially significant because prosecutors contend Sanchez fired the rifle at Barroso’s car a week later with the intent to stop her so he could then sexually assault her.
Defense attorneys Neil Quinn and Jan Helfrich tried to show on cross-examination, however, that Sanchez was so disturbed at the time that he was not concerned with stopping a woman for sex, but thinking about killing himself or someone else.
Helfrich asked Fernandez if he thought Sanchez’s motivation was to incite a confrontation in which police officers would shoot and kill him. Fernandez said Sanchez told him he wanted “to shoot a cop and he didn’t care if he got shot.”
Fernandez also testified that when he saw Sanchez about three hours before the Barroso slaying on July 5, the defendant was intoxicated and slurring his speech. Otherwise, he said, Sanchez appeared normal, not depressed, and he made a suggestive remark about some women they saw looking for a lost dog.
Sanchez’s half-brother, Anthony Lopez, also testified Thursday. Lopez told jurors that in early 2001 he admitted his brother to a mental hospital because he feared Sanchez was suicidal, depressed and posed a potential threat to his estranged girlfriend.
Like Fernandez, Lopez saw Sanchez the night of the slaying. He testified that he awoke about 1 a.m. and Sanchez’s truck was gone from the driveway of the house. Lopez said he saw Sanchez in the living room about 2:30 a.m., but acknowledged under questioning by prosecutor Lela Henke-Dobroth that his brother could have left the house and returned later that morning without notice.
Prosecutors believe Barroso was shot as she exited the Moorpark Freeway about 3 a.m.