The California Supreme Court Monday upheld a man’s conviction and death sentence for murdering his ex-girlfriend to keep her from pursuing a rape case against him.
The state’s highest court unanimously affirmed Ruben Becerrada’s September 2008 conviction for the March 4, 2000, stabbing and strangulation of Maria Arevalo, 22, of Arleta.
Her body was found in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of a Van Nuys apartment complex, where Becerrada had lived in 1994 and 1995.
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors that the defendant killed his ex-girlfriend “to get rid of her because she was the sole witness against him” in the rape case.
Becerrada was sentenced to death in February 2009 after maintaining that he was “innocent of rape.”
Reading from a statement written on pages from a legal pad, Becerrada said that he and Arevalo had gotten into an argument, and she “told this far- out story” alleging that she had been raped.
“They filed a rape that was never a rape,” he said at his sentencing.
In a 39-page ruling, the state’s high court found “the evidence showed that defendant expected Maria to drop the charges and supported a finding that he intended to kill her if she did not do so,” and that “he did kill her when he learned that the charges were still pending.”
The justices, however, found there was insufficient evidence to support one of the three special circumstances against him — murder while lying in wait. Two other special circumstances — killing a witness and murder during the commission of a kidnapping — remain.
“The evidence strongly supports a jury finding that defendant killed Maria premeditatedly when he learned she had not dropped the charges, but it does not support a finding that he had lured her to his home intending to kill her. Thus, there is no evidence of a substantial period of watching and waiting for an opportune time to act,” Justice Ming W. Chin wrote on behalf of the panel.
—City News Service