Jury selection began Monday for the trial of a 28-year-old Coachella Valley man accused of fatally stabbing his girlfriend during a frenzied attack possibly stemming from drug use, dumping her remains in a Thermal cemetery, then setting her residence ablaze.
Christian Alejandro Pacheco is charged with murder, arson, assault with a deadly weapon, animal cruelty and a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.
Pacheco, who is acting as his own attorney, allegedly killed 30-year-old Elilia Valdez Garcia in March 2017.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Walter Kubelun on Monday summoned several panels of prospective jurors to the Riverside Hall of Justice for screening as to their availability and qualifications. Additional panels are slated to be summoned the rest of the week. It was unclear whether opening statements would proceed before the weekend.
Pacheco is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
According to a trial brief filed by the District Attorney’s Office, Pacheco was a frequent problem for his family, causing disturbances, taking vehicles without consent and exhibiting “an aggressive temperament (while) using drugs.”
In March 2017, neither his mother nor father wanted him in their respective homes because of his methamphetamine abuse and stealing, prosecutors said.
Pacheco maintained a rocky relationship with Garcia, causing her difficulties when he took her brother’s Hyundai without asking, as well as swiping her mobile phone.
Early on the morning of March 17, 2017, he went to the victim’s mobile home in the area of Avenue 60 and Van Buren Street and told her to come with him, though he appeared to the victim’s cousin, Maria Solorio, to be highly agitated.
Solorio tried to dissuade Garcia from going with the defendant, even standing behind the Hyundai to prevent him from driving off the property, but when he almost backed over her, she got out of the way, according to court papers.
In the ensuing hours, Solorio tried multiple times to contact the victim via cellphone, and at one point she received a call from her, but for the rest of the day, nothing else was heard, prosecutors said.
The District Attorney’s Office alleged that sometime in the predawn hours of March 17, Pacheco attacked Garcia, using a knife to stab her numerous times in the head and neck.
“The stab wounds to the back of the neck were lethal, approximately six to eight inches deep, partially severing her trachea and completely severing the right pretibial artery,” according to the brief.
Pacheco dumped her remains on a dirt road leading into a small private cemetery near Body of Christ Church, 62950 Monroe St. in Thermal, prosecutors alleged.
Around noon on the same day, he returned to Garcia’s trailer and allegedly set it aflame, the brief stated. A neighbor went to see what was happening and encountered Pacheco in the Hyundai with the victim’s Chihuahua.
“The defendant told him, `This witch is (expletive) crazy. I tried to kill her, and she wouldn’t die. I saw the devil in her face, and she wouldn’t die,”’ according to the brief.
The man told authorities later that as he called the fire department, Garcia sped away from the scene. A witness, Duncan Cameron, was near Garcia’s burning residence, taking pictures of coconut trees, when the defendant pulled alongside him, asking for money, prosecutors alleged.
Cameron became frightened by Pacheco’s behavior, fearing he might have a gun, and jumped into his Mercedes-Benz to get away. He told sheriff’s detectives that Pacheco tailed him, tapping his bumper several times, ultimately causing the witness to lose control, at which point his Mercedes spun out and overturned on a dirt embankment along westbound Avenue 60. He suffered minor injuries.
Pacheco went to his grandmother’s home in the 51-700 block of Calle Torres Orduno in Coachella, where he walked into the kitchen and obtained a knife, then returned to the Hyundai, where a neighbor observed him “start beating a small dog.”
He nearly decapitated the Chihuahua and threw the mortally injured animal and the butcher knife into nearby bushes, prosecutors allege.
“The defendant’s family came out and called 911,” the brief said. “The defendant asked his grandmother to forgive him.”
The woman handed him her cellphone, and Pacheco spoke with a 911 dispatcher, who told him to lay on the ground and wait for deputies, which he did. He was taken into custody without incident minutes later and turned over to homicide detectives, who had learned of Garcia’s disappearance. They questioned Pacheco at length, and the following day, he agreed to take them to where the victim’s body had been dumped, according to court papers.
They found the woman’s remains, at which point Pacheco broke down in tears, the brief said.
Pacheco has a prior misdemeanor conviction for driving on a suspended license, according to court documents.