A Placentia man in a jealous rage repeatedly stabbed his on-again, off-again girlfriend after she nixed his proposal to elope and left her body in the trunk of her car 21 years ago, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday, while the defendant’s attorney claimed his client’s cousin was the killer.
Samuel Agustin Lopez, 43, is accused of fatally stabbing 20-year-old Cal State Fullerton student Cathy Torrez on Feb. 12, 1994.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy characterized the victim as an “all-American girl” who lived across the street from her accused killer, who was her “high school sweetheart” and whose sister, Tina, was married to his brother.
They came from traditional families and it appears the two had a “wholesome” relationship and never had sex together, Murphy said.
In the weeks preceding her death, Torrez was dating another neighborhood friend with whom she grew up, Albert Rangel, and Lopez was seeing a 17-year- old girl named Perla Diaz, Murphy said.
About a week before she was killed, Torrez went on a date with Lopez in which they twice encountered police, Murphy said. The first time, they were drinking a carbonated drink that contained about as much alcohol as a beer, Murphy said.
Hours later, Lopez sped through an intersection in Fullerton and blew through a stop sign, Murphy said. An officer at the scene got the impression the two had been arguing, the prosecutor said.
When Torrez finally got home that evening, two of the tires on her car were slashed and her brother had to carry her into the house because she was so incapacitated, Murphy said. The prosecutor suggested Torrez had been drugged because there was little evidence she had downed less than two bottles of the wine cooler-like drink.
The victim’s mother also noticed after her daughter passed out in the bathroom that she was missing her underwear, Murphy said.
A day before their date, Torrez had gone out with Rangel, who had given her a hickey, Murphy said.
Rangel, who suffered from suicidal ideation, hanged himself at work five days before Torrez’s murder and lingered in a coma for months before he died, Murphy said.
Torrez spent several days at the hospital, where “she sat with the (Rangel) family and she cried with the family,” the prosecutor said. Torrez also started working on a long letter to Rangel that she hoped would encourage him to fight for his life when he regained consciousness, Murphy said.
Lopez was angered when he was told Torrez was keeping vigil at the hospital, Murphy said.
A key issue in the trial will be Lopez’s alibi and movements on the day of the killing. Murphy signaled he will argue that Lopez had the opportunity to commit the crime while with his cousin, Xavier “Javier” Lopez, that night.
Javier Lopez, 40, is a co-defendant in the case, but will be tried separately.
On the night investigators believe she was killed, Torrez left her job at a Sav-On store in Placentia, telling a co-worker she was going to meet Lopez, Murphy said.
Concerned family members called police when she didn’t come home. Her body was found a week later in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of Placentia-Linda Hospital.
A letter to Rangel was abruptly interrupted with the writer apparently beginning to write the word, “Valentine,” Murphy said.
The prosecutor said the only contribution Lopez made to the search was posting a flier. Lopez’s interviews with police in which his story kept changing when presented with new evidence also will be part of the prosecution’s legal theory, Murphy said.
Torrez was stabbed “dozens of times” and her throat was slashed, Murphy said.
Javier Lopez was friendly with the victim, but did not socialize with her much, the prosecutor said. He said Javier Lopez’s DNA is mixed in blood found on the outside of the car; his left fingerprint was found on the trunk; and his DNA was also found on the victim’s top and sock.
Samuel Lopez’s attorney, Lew Rosenblum, said he planned to argue that Javier Lopez was the lone culprit.
“My client did not kill her. You’ll see Javier Lopez killed Cathy Torrez and did it alone,” Rosenblum alleged.
Rosenblum said much of the prosecution’s evidence is based on “hearsay,” and told jurors that investigators did not find his client’s DNA or prints on the victim’s car and made mistakes in the case.
Rosenblum said the victim was having issues with drugs around the time of the killing.
“She was an all-American girl, but there’s another side of her (Murphy) didn’t tell you about,” Rosenblum said.
Co-defendant Armando Lopez, Samuel Lopez’s older brother, was charged with being an accessory after the fact and is next due in court in May.
—City News Service