SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man accused of killing a 14-year-old girl whose body was found in an abandoned home in Golden Hill more than three years ago must stand trial on murder and other charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Antero Salmeron Cruz, 23, is charged in the Dec. 31, 2007, death of Ahlyja Pinson. Her battered body was found in an abandoned home near 29th and E streets about five hours after she was last seen on New Year's Eve 2007.
Cruz, a documented gang member, was originally arrested on Jan. 10, 2008, but prosecutors initially declined to charge him.
Police said additional evidence was developed during a review of the case, and that led them to identify Cruz as being responsible for the teen's murder. He was re-arrested and charged in October.
The defendant's ex-girlfriend, Fanny Vidal, testified during a preliminary hearing Tuesday that she had become friends with the Ahlyja, a cousin to her brother's girlfriend.
The witness said she came home the day of the murder and found Pinson on the porch.
Vidal said Cruz was also at the house.
"I said (to Pinson), `What are you doing here?"' Vidal testified.
Pinson said she was looking for her cousin, then left.
Vidal said she was upset that Pinson was at the house when Cruz was there, because he had cheated on her with another friend.
The witness said Cruz left minutes later, saying he was going to visit his mother.
When Cruz came home, he was acting nervous and asked Vidal to tell police he was with her if they asked where he was that night, the witness testified.
Vidal said Cruz was wearing different clothes that were too big for him, saying he got blood on his clothes when he stabbed a man during a fight.
The next morning, Cruz got up early and started cleaning the trunk of his car, asking for bleach, Vidal testified.
Cruz said he was cleaning up the car because he threw a bloody knife in there, his ex-girlfriend testified. She said she later pointed out blood in the trunk to police.
Vidal said she didn't come forward at first because she was afraid of Cruz.
San Diego police Crime Scene Specialist Heidi Hebert also testified Tuesday that a palm print on the wall of the abandoned home belonged to Cruz.
Deborah Blackwell, a criminalist, testified that DNA taken from a cigarette butt matched that of Cruz.
Blood found in the trunk of Cruz's car matched the victim's DNA, Blackwell said.
Dr. Craig Nelson, a deputy medical examiner, testified that Pinson died of blunt force injuries to her head and neck. The victim was strangled, he said, and her skull was crushed. She had at least 17 cuts on her head, he said.
Pinson suffered 70 puncture wounds on her body, including 40 to the head and neck. There was no indication of a sexual assault, the deputy medical examiner testified.
Cruz is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run in a separate incident on Sept. 2 of last year, in which he allegedly ran over a rival gang member with his car, breaking the victim's leg, according to Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler.
Crystal Lopez, who has four children with Cruz, testified Wednesday that she was with Cruz when he ran over the victim.
She testified that Cruz hit the victim in retaliation for an incident a few months earlier when someone shot at him from a car.
At the end of the preliminary hearing - which lasted parts of two days - Judge Desiree Bruce-Lyle ruled that there was enough evidence presented for Cruz to stand trial. A Superior Court arraignment was set for March 14.
Cruz, who has an auto theft conviction, faces 33 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges.
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