Jury selection got underway Monday for the trial of a probationer who’s facing the death penalty if convicted of torturing his ex-girlfriend for hours — capturing portions of the ultimately fatal assault on a cell phone video camera — then driving around with her body until being found by police in a remote area of Hemet.
Vincent James Marples, 36, is charged with first-degree murder, burglary, making terrorist threats and a sentence-enhancing allegation of perpetrating torture in the course of a killing for the 2017 death of 32-year-old Cassandra Taylor.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Koosed summoned several panels of prospective jurors to the Riverside Hall of Justice for screening as to their availability and qualifications. The vetting process is expected to last several weeks.
According to a trial brief filed by the District Attorney’s Office, the defendant had a history of violence against women, which Taylor discovered during their three-year relationship, toward the end of which she bore him a daughter, who was three weeks old when her mother died.
The prosecution alleges in court papers that Marples and Taylor began dating in 2013, and within a few short months, he was physically abusing her.
After one act of domestic violence in Thousand Palms in 2015, the victim reported the beating to police, and Marples was convicted of misdemeanor assault.
In the last quarter of 2016, he allegedly punched the pregnant woman in the face several times, leaving her with black eyes — and convincing her it was time to make a clean break. According to the prosecution, the defendant could not let go and hounded Taylor with phone calls and texts, either making threats against her or claiming he was on the verge of suicide.
Taylor attempted to avoid contact, but after a quick shopping trip to Walmart in Hemet on the night of Jan. 22, 2017, prosecutors allege Marples either convinced her to meet him, or overpowered her before she arrived back at her apartment.
Her whereabouts were unknown until the afternoon of Jan. 24, when Marples called his mother to say Taylor was dead, though not admitting any responsibility, and telling her that he intended to commit suicide, according to the brief.
He also called 911 from Taylor’s mobile phone, pleading for help, allowing Hemet police to identify the approximate point of origin of the call, according to the prosecution.
On a hillside southeast of the intersection of Gibbel Road and State Street, a sheriff’s helicopter spotted the defendant’s Ford Explorer and directed police officers and deputies to the spot, which they could only reach by traversing mud-caked roads.
The SUV had been rigged with a hose running from the tailpipe to the driver’s window, but the engine wasn’t running, according to police.
After Marples ignored commands to come out, the Ford’s windows were smashed, and he was found lying next to Taylor’s lifeless body, prosecutors said.
“She had substantial bruising to her face, arms, torso, back, buttocks and legs,” according to the brief. “Her hair was heavily matted, and there were twigs and small sticks embedded into her hair and on her buttocks.”
Her cell phone was accessed and showed a stream of texts and calls from Marples, prosecutors allege.
“Cassandra’s cell phone contained three videos that had been filmed by the defendant in the early morning hours of Jan. 23, 2017,” according to the brief. “When the first video begins, the victim has already been severely beaten. She is bleeding and is having difficulty breathing. Over the approximate 15 minutes of video, the defendant engaged in a nonstop barrage of insults and degrading comments, as he slapped, struck, and slammed the victim’s head. Incapable of defending herself, Ms. Taylor cried in pain with each assault as life slowly and painfully escaped her body.”
An autopsy determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and upper body.
Marples claimed he fell asleep in his SUV and found Taylor in that condition when he awoke, according to the prosecution.
Court records show that, along with domestic assault, Marples has prior convictions for driving under the influence and manufacturing an illegal firearm.
He is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
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