Picture of a knife, not the one in story.
Example of a knife. Photo via Pixabay

An Indio man accused of stabbing his girlfriend and dumping her body near a Thermal cemetery after proclaiming she had been possessed by “a witch and a demon,” then setting her mobile home ablaze, must stand trial on murder and other charges, a judge has ruled.

Christian Pacheco, 26, is suspected of killing 30-year-old Elilia Valdez, a mother of two whose suffered multiple stab wounds to the back of her head in March 2017. He was originally deemed to be mentally incompetent to stand trail, but after time in a state hospital, he was deemed to stand trial.

He’s also accused of stabbing a dog to death.

Following a preliminary hearing that spanned two days at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins ruled Monday that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence for the defendant to proceed to trial on murder, arson, assault with a deadly weapon and animal cruelty charges.

Hawkins kept Pacheco’s bail at $1 million, and scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for July 19.

Two of Valdez’s cousins testified Friday that two days before her body was discovered, they witnessed the defendant arrive at her trailer and that he “took” her with him. Several hours after not hearing from her cousin, Mariaelema Solorio testified she filed a missing persons report.

Luis Garcia, the victim’s neighbor, testified that about 11 a.m. on March 18, 2017, he saw the defendant — behind the wheel of the victim’s car — drive in the direction of her mobile home.

Minutes later, the defendant drove back past Garcia’s trailer and asked Garcia for help torching the car, the witness testified. Pacheco seemed “hyper,” and admitted to killing an unspecified woman, saying he “saw the devil in her face” and that “she wouldn’t die,” Garcia testified.

Garcia said the defendant then sped off, and he noticed the victim’s trailer was on fire. He then called 911.

Sometime afterward, the defendant allegedly tried to run a motorist off the road before driving away, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, accounting for the assault with a deadly weapon charge.

Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Heredia testified that deputies later served a search warrant at the home of the defendant’s mother, who allegedly told investigators that her son had told her that the victim had “converted into a witch and a demon.”

Pacheco allegedly killed a dog with a knife during his stay at his mother’s home, accounting for the animal cruelty charge.

Once in custody in the assault with a deadly weapon case, Pacheco led investigators near a cemetery in Thermal where Valdez’s body was located, according to sheriff’s Investigator Damen Butvidas, who testified that Pacheco never admitted to killing her.

Pacheco, who has no prior felony convictions in Riverside County, was previously found mentally incompetent to stand trial in March 2018. Two doctors testified during his mental competency hearing that Pacheco likely suffered from a mental disorder, though neither diagnosis was definitive. He was then sent to a state-run hospital. Criminal proceedings were later restarted after his mental competency was deemed restored.

Pacheco’s attorney subsequently sought again to have his client’s mental competency reviewed, although a judge found the defendant mentally competent to stand trial that time.

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