Jurors began deliberations Monday in the penalty phase of the trial of a convicted felon who fatally stabbed his ex-girlfriend along Interstate 10 in Whitewater and, four months later, strangled his 82-year-old cell mate at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
Rigoberto Villanueva, 42, of Fontana could be sentenced to death for the 2016 killings of Rosemary Barrasa, 37, and Tom Carlin.
A Riverside jury convicted Villanueva last month of two counts of first-degree murder and found true a special circumstance allegation of taking multiple lives, making the defendant eligible for capital punishment.
The same jury heard testimony in the penalty phase of the trial over the last week, and after the prosecution and defense made their final summations early Monday afternoon, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher sent the panel behind closed doors at the Riverside Hall of Justice to deliberate.
Villanueva is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
According to prosecutors, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 300-pound defendant had been in a relationship with Barrasa in the late 1990s, and in the fall of 2015, he persuaded her to join him at his brother’s residence in Salida, in Northern California.
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando said that the defendant and Barrasa lived together at the property over the ensuing six months, and during that time, Villanueva became abusive, inflicting injuries to the victim’s arms and legs and cutting away some of her hair.
During an argument on April 30, 2016, the defendant ordered Barrasa to leave the house, and she complied, heading to Fontana to stay with a friend. Orlando wrote in a trial brief that within a week of her leaving, Villanueva went searching for the victim and arrived in the Inland Empire on May 7. Several days later, he located Barrasa at her friend’s residence.
“The defendant expressed that Barrasa had his heart, which Barrasa responded to by laughing,” Orlando said. “However, Barrasa seemed happy after talking with the defendant.”
Despite being happy to see him, the victim told friends that she was concerned about Villanueva’s behavior, and at least one witness recalled Barrasa hesitating to get into his car on the night of May 11, 2016, according to the prosecution.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on May 12, Barrasa’s body was located in Villanueva’s sedan, which appeared to have crashed on eastbound Interstate 10, near Tipton Road, in Whitewater.
Barrasa had been stabbed 34 times with a screwdriver, with the wounds patterned like an X across her upper body, according to Orlando.
California Highway Patrol officers encountered Villanueva a quarter-mile west of the scene, walking in the freeway center median. When they attempted to question him, the defendant took off running and resisted officers when they caught up to him, prompting them to use a stun gun to gain control and handcuff him, according to the CHP.
Villanueva was immediately jailed and charged with Barrasa’s murder. He was paired with Carlin in Housing Unit 17 at the Smith Correctional Facility, according to court papers.
Other inmates described Villanueva as extremely moody and sometimes physically aggressive — a deep contrast with Carlin, who was “happy-go-lucky” and generally liked by the men in his cell block, according to the brief.
One inmate told sheriff’s investigators that in the days leading up to Carlin’s murder, Villanueva had suggested his cell mate was a child molester, even though the senior was charged with felonious assault and making criminal threats, not sexual offenses. Villanueva also conveyed to the same inmate that he wanted to “choke” Carlin, according to the brief.
The prosecution said that on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2016, Villanueva knotted a bed sheet and used it to strangle the victim, trying to make it appear as though the elder had hung himself while sitting on the bedside commode.
The defendant called deputies to report the bogus suicide, and correctional deputies attempted to resuscitate Carlin, but it was too late.
Villanueva was charged with the murder and was relocated to a high security unit at the Robert Presley Detention Center.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: