A defense attorney for a Placentia man charged with killing his on-again, off-again girlfriend 21 years ago offered a timeline Thursday for his client’s actions the last night the victim was seen alive — a timeline that the lawyer said proves the defendant’s innocence.

Samuel Agustin Lopez’s attorney cited testimony from a handful of witnesses that pinpointed where Lopez was during the “missing hour” prosecutors allege he was killing 20-year-old Cal State Fullerton student Cathy Torrez on Feb. 12, 1994.

Torrez’s body was found a week later in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of a Placentia hospital.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued Wednesday that Lopez, 43, killed Torrez with help from his cousin and best friend Xavier “Javier” Lopez, 40, a codefendant in the case who is scheduled to be tried separately.

Murphy told jurors Torrez was met by Sam Lopez at 8:15 p.m. in the parking lot of an ice cream store, citing a letter she was writing in her car at the time to another boyfriend that listed the time she was writing and was interrupted as she was starting the word, “Valentine.”

Sam Lopez told police when they questioned him in 1994 that he left his girlfriend Perla Diaz’s family’s grocery store at 8 p.m., drove to his cousin Javier’s residence to pick him up and they both headed to another friend’s home before the defendant dropped by the Brea Mall about 9:05 to pick up a Valentine’s Day gift for Diaz.

He left the mall empty-handed because it was closing and arrived home about 9:20 p.m., Lopez attorney Lew Rosenblum said.

“Everything he says to (the police) is true and corroborated,” Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum argued that Xavier Lopez killed Torrez during a robbery for money to buy cocaine, and he acted alone.

Xavier Lopez appeared to have taken a shower that evening, indicating he washed off blood from putting the victim in the trunk, Rosenblum argued.

“Their story is falling apart,” Rosenblum said of the prosecution’s case. “How can Javier be in two places at once?…There is no missing hour and Sam is accounted for at 9:15 p.m.”

There is no way to know when Torrez was killed, Rosenblum said.

“And do we know why she stopped writing that note? No,” Rosenblum said. “We don’t know when Cathy was killed and where she was killed. They haven’t proven their case.”

As to Murphy’s arguments revolving around the defendant’s seeming indifference to the community’s avid search for Torrez in the week before her body was found, Rosenblum countered that Torrez would sometimes stay overnight with friends so that could explain why Lopez was not concerned his friend never made it home from work.

One of Torrez’s friends testified that the talk of Sam Lopez proposing Torrez elope with him was not serious.

“They joked about eloping,” Rosenblum said.

Lopez consistently volunteered to answer questions from investigators and submit to any DNA or fingerprint tests, Rosenblum said. Over the years he never tried to flee the area, Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum also pointed to multiple law enforcement errors in the case that were due to investigators seeking clues to incriminate rather than exonerate the defendant.

For instance, police did not try to seize Javier Lopez’s clothes for blood evidence, Rosenblum said.

Family and friends of Torrez testified that Sam Lopez did nothing to help with the search for the victim when she failed to come home from her job at a drug store, Murphy said.

When the two went on a date about a week before the murder, a police officer stopped the car they were in because Sam Lopez drove through a stop sign. The car was going so fast that it “bottomed out” and sparks flew, Murphy said.

The two appeared to be arguing and the officer testified he saw Torrez was crying.

Torrez’s best friend testified that when Sam Lopez saw a hickey planted on Torrez by another man she was dating at the time, the defendant accused her of “cheating” on him, Murphy said.

The victim arrived home so intoxicated the night of the date that her brother, Marty, had to carry her into the home, the sibling testified. And her tires were slashed, an act of vandalism from Sam Lopez, Murphy argued.

The next day, the boyfriend who gave Torrez a hickey, hanged himself at work, but botched the suicide, causing him to linger in the hospital for months before he died.

Torrez was at the hospital about every night that week crying with his family and writing letters to him to encourage him to stay alive, Murphy said.

When Sam Lopez learned Torrez was at the hospital, he was furious, Murphy said, telling the jury that her rejection of the proposed elopement sent the defendant over the edge.

City News Service

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