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Man accused of raping, robbing store clerk in Escondido pleads not guilty

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VISTA (CNS) - An 18-year-old man accused of robbing and raping a store clerk at her North County workplace and stealing her sport utility vehicle pleaded not guilty Friday to eight charges, including kidnapping for purposes of a sexual assault.

Hugo Elmer Garcia, who is in custody in lieu of $2 million bail, faces 69 years to life if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Jodi Breton.

Garcia allegedly was casing a convenience store in the 1600 block of East Valley Parkway in Escondido shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, then confronted the victim inside the store at gunpoint, the prosecutor said.

After robbing the victim, the defendant ordered her into a back room, where he tied up her hands and feet and sexually assaulted her, Breton said. He then allegedly stole the victim's a white-and-tan 2000 Ford Expedition and fled.

Officers fanned out through the city and searched for the robber for about four hours before getting a report of an attempted armed holdup of two women a short distance from the site of the earlier crimes, Lt. Chris Wynn said.

One of the victims told police she was leaving her workplace in the 1500 block of East Valley Parkway with a friend when a man with a gun tried to rob them. Instead of complying with the thief, the victims ran off and made an emergency call, Breton said.

Minutes later, patrol personnel spotted the stolen SUV parked in a lot off Beech Street, near the scene of the failed pedestrian holdup, with Garcia sitting inside it. Officers detained the suspect, who was allegedly carrying a loaded gun, and all three victims identified him as the perpetrator of the spree of crimes.

Besides kidnapping, Garcia -- the subject of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest warrant for allegedly ignoring a deportation order -- was charged with rape, robbery and burglary, among other counts.

Vista Judge Richard Mills scheduled a readiness conference for May 31 and a preliminary hearing for June 2, when a judge will consider if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

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