A man was convicted Monday of the first-degree murder of his estranged wife, whose badly burned body was discovered at a homeless encampment in Granada Hills nearly five years ago.
Jurors deliberated less than a day before finding Hector Veloz, 50, guilty of the June 2017 slaying of Sandra Velasco, 52. The panel also found that Veloz personally used a knife in the attack against his wife of two years.
The coroner’s office could not determine how the woman died, but the prosecution believes she was stabbed, given the discovery of a knife with the victim’s blood on it and a large amount of blood in the back seat of her car, according to Deputy District Attorney John McKinney. She had also suffered blunt force trauma resulting in a skull fracture, according to the prosecutor.
In his closing argument, McKinney said that the victim had changed the locks on her Panorama City home just over a week after an incident of domestic violence involving Veloz and that she was last seen on June 18, 2017, at a storage unit where she was trying to drop off clothing he had requested.
“This was on a brutal killing that went on for some time,” the prosecutor told jurors.
The woman’s body was dumped near a gas station and found two days later following a fire, and she was originally listed as a “Jane Doe” because her body was so badly burned, McKinney said. A good Samaritan subsequently found her belongings, including a criminal protective order, in another location, and two of the woman’s adult children found her car in a Target parking lot near the storage facility, according to the prosecutor.
Of his then-missing wife, Veloz told his aunt that he wanted to get his wife’s benefits through the U.S. Postal Service, where she was a longtime employee, McKinney told jurors.
“He’s a cold, calculated killer,” the prosecutor said last week, calling the evidence against the defendant “extremely powerful.”
Defense attorney Justine Esack countered that jurors should acquit her client.
“I am not here to tell you that he is a man of good character,” she said, noting that the jury had heard “appalling things” Veloz said after his wife’s death.
Those statements didn’t “prove what his state of mind was when Sandra died in that hallway,” the defense attorney told the panel.
“They chose to say that this was intentional,” Esack said. “They chose to ignore the injuries to him. They chose to ignore the dynamics of this relationship.”
Veloz’s attorney alleged that the woman’s two adult daughters — who both work in law enforcement — had a hand in trying to guide the case, and that it affected how law enforcement looked at the case.
But she argued that the prosecution had failed to prove the elements of murder.
Veloz is due back in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom for sentencing July 29. He is facing 26 years to life in state prison.