courtroom jury box
Courtroom jury box. MNLA photo by Jay Martin

One Year Ago Today (July 26, 2021)…Jury selection is scheduled to begin for the murder trial of a Thermal man accused of using a knife and screwdriver to fatally stab his father’s girlfriend more than 120 times nearly nine years ago.

Raul Alcantar Sanchez Jr., 41, is suspected of killing 34-year-old Thermal resident Carolina Vargas at their mobile home in the 85000 block of Middleton Street in November 2012.

According to Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse, Sanchez allegedly stabbed the victim approximately 120 times — including 65 times to the face and neck.

He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, triggering a two-phase trial expected to span multiple weeks at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos ordered multiple panels of prospective jurors to begin reporting to the courthouse on Tuesday. Opening statements could be made as early as Aug. 5, according to prosecutors.

A trial brief prepared by Lofthouse states that the defendant had allegedly made several previous death threats towards the victim.

The brief says a possible motive could be an issue the defendant had regarding his father’s relationship with the victim, though specifics were not provided.

Deputies found the victim dead inside the residence and arrested Sanchez near the crime scene.

Sanchez’s pants allegedly had the victim’s blood on them, according to court records.

Sanchez was previously found mentally incompetent to stand trial and transferred to a state mental facility. His mental fitness was later deemed restored and criminal proceedings were restarted.

Sanchez, who remains held on $1.04 million bail at John Benoit Detention Center in Indio, has prior felony convictions including burglary, vandalism and grand theft.

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