A Moreno Valley man accused of fatally slashing his girlfriend and taking the life of her unborn child more than a decade ago must stand trial on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges, a judge ruled Friday.
Russell Lynwood Austin, 34, was arrested earlier this year following a years-long investigation by Riverside County sheriff’s cold case detectives.
At the end of a preliminary hearing Friday morning at the Riverside Hall of Justice, Riverside County Superior Court Judge William McGrath found there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on the murder counts, as well as a special circumstance allegation of taking multiple lives in the same crime and sentence-enhancing allegations of using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.
McGrath scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for July 12. Austin is being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
Prosecutors allege the defendant killed 25-year-old Erica Johnson of Moreno Valley and the baby she was carrying on Aug. 29, 2008.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Johnson was attacked in her apartment in the 23000 block of Bay Avenue. The victim’s throat was slashed, and she died on the floor. The court clerk’s 19-month-old son was in the apartment but not harmed. He was found next to his mother two days later, wearing a dirty diaper and stained with her blood.
Johnson was three months pregnant, and prosecutors believe Austin was the father.
Sheriff’s detectives focused on the defendant early in the investigation, but there was no direct evidence tying him to the crime at that time, according to the D.A.’s office.
The case went cold until 2014, when a forensic sample from the scene was submitted to the state’s DNA database, resulting in a “hit,” or positive return, prosecutors said.
The DNA trace evidence, which was not identified, allegedly placed the defendant in the apartment when the victims were killed.
Investigators arrested Austin on Feb. 6 without a struggle near the intersection of Iris and Perris avenues in Moreno Valley. A criminal complaint was filed against him two days later.
The defendant has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County. If convicted, he could face the death penalty, provided District Attorney Mike Hestrin decides to seek it. No decision has been made, agency spokesman John Hall told City News Service.
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