A parolee accused of bludgeoning a woman to death with a hammer in Desert Hot Springs must stand trial on a murder charge and sentence enhancing allegations, but had other felony charges dropped, a judge ruled Monday.
Joseph Cantu Montanez, 42, of Desert Hot Springs, is accused of killing 39-year-old Andrea Reyes, who was found dead at her home two days after Christmas. He also faces a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a weapon — a hammer — during the commission of a murder.
Following a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles E. Strafford found prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on the murder charge.
Along with murder, Montanez was initially charged with one count each of attempted murder and domestic abuse against Corinna Cheavarria, but those charges were dropped because Strafford found there was not sufficient evidence to take them to trial.
Montanez remains held on $1 million bail at the John Benoit Detention Center in Indio, and is set to appear at the Larson Justice Center in Indio for a post-preliminary hearing on Aug. 20.
Desert Hot Springs Police Department Detective Christopher Tooth was the third to testify and stated that, during an interview with law enforcement, Montanez said he recalled a physical altercation with Reyes, but he “blacks-out” and regains conciseness to the victim “bloody and wrapped in Christmas lights.”
Montanez fled the scene and did not call authorities.
Montanez and Reyes allegedly got into physical fights before, although none of them were officially reported to police.
Cheavarria, the alleged victim of the dropped attempted murder and domestic abuse charges, was the second person to testify, and stated that the event that sprung the two dropped charges was a mutual fight between her and the defendant.
Cheavarria stated that the alleged incident involving her and the defendant occurred in November, a month before Reyes’ death, and that she believed Montanez had no intent to kill Cheavarria.
Cheavarria was a close friend of Reyes’, having apparently known her since they were children. She explained that at the time of Reyes’ death, the victim and defendant were living together in the victim’s home in the 15600 block of Palm Drive but had no romantic relationship.
Officers were sent to Reyes’ house initially to conduct a welfare check Dec. 27 and discovered Reyes dead inside at 2:30 p.m., according to the Desert Hot Springs Police Department.
Detectives then “obtained information” that pinpointed Montanez as a suspect and arrested him on Jan. 4, police said, but did not elaborate.
Montanez had an active warrant out for his arrest for an alleged parole violation from October, and court records also show he has felony convictions in Riverside County for robbery, false imprisonment and vehicle theft.