A onetime high school football star was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for allegedly stabbing and dismembering a Brea teen and then ordering the youth’s friends to keep the killing a secret -- something they did for six years before finally going to authorities.
Robert Marquez, 26, wept as his former girlfriend and another acquaintance testified that the ex-Walnut High School athlete killed 16-year-old Bryan Thorne after a school field trip and then disposed of his body in a shopping center trash bin.
Thorne’s body was never found, and his mother said she spent years praying for his safe return.
Marquez, who is being held without bail at Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail, will be arraigned Nov. 24 in Pomona Superior Court. If convicted, he could face 50 years to life. Investigators say he confessed to the killing.
Marquez was serving a prison term on an unrelated case when several of Thorne’s classmates from Brea Canyon High School came forward last month to report the Jan. 13, 1998, crime. Police said the classmates kept their friend’s slaying secret because Marquez had threatened them with death if they said anything.
“Robert told me if I told anyone, he’d kill me,” Christopher Horn testified Wednesday. “He said he’s seen my mom and knows where I live.”
Horn and Cynthia Perez, then Marquez’s 15-year-old girlfriend, testified that a group of fellow students had just returned from a field trip to Los Angeles to watch the taping of the television comedy “3rd Rock From the Sun” when Marquez invited them to his Rowland Heights home. Marquez tagged along on the Los Angeles trip.
Police said Marquez asked Thorne and another friend if they wanted to go out to the backyard and smoke marijuana. Without warning, police said they were told, Marquez slipped on gloves and stabbed Thorne.
As word of the killing swept among the friends still gathered in Marquez’s house, he told them that if anyone asked, to say that they had dropped Thorne off at a liquor store and presumed he had walked home, police said.
Horn said Marquez bragged about the killing.
“He said it was his 25th time doing it,” Horn testified, growing emotional as he spoke. He said he drove some of the teens home and then returned to Marquez’s house. “You could hear chopping and sawing,” he testified.
He said Marquez later went out to the car with trash bags and blankets and ordered him to drive to a trash bin behind a shopping center.
During their testimony, Perez and Horn said they lived with the secret because they feared for their lives. Perez testified that once when she angered Marquez, he held her upside-down from a balcony. She also said Marquez bragged about killing Thorne.
Wednesday was the first time Deborah Palomino faced her son’s accused killer. During her brief testimony, Palomino said she last spoke to her son after the field trip when he returned her page to say he was OK.
Asked to identify her son in a picture, Palomino broke down. “That’s my son! That’s my son!”
She was later helped from the courtroom by court officials. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe that [man]!” she screamed.
After the hearing, Palomino said the years she spent hoping for her son’s return were torturous. She said she called school officials, Brea police and his friends, but no one knew -- or would say -- where her son was.
“There was nothing I could do. The police dropped it. I was completely in the dark.”
Asked whether she was upset that the teens held onto their dark secret for so long, she said, “I’m not upset at them. I can only thank them for coming forward just to get this behind us.”