Prosecutor: Man killed wife in 1995, dumped body in forest - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Prosecutor: Man killed wife in 1995, dumped body in forest; defense says client didn't do it

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A San Diego man strangled or smothered his wife in their apartment nearly 16 years ago and dumped her body in the Cleveland National Forest, a prosecutor said Tuesday, but a defense attorney said the 21-year-old victim walked out on the defendant and that he didn't kill her.

Russell Wayne Upton, now 37, is charged with first-degree murder in the August 1995 death of his wife of two years, Marilane Abueg.

Upton said he argued with Abueg the afternoon of Aug. 17, 1995, and she never returned. Her severely decomposed body was found a week later in a remote area off Kitchen Creek Road, about 56 miles from her Mission Valley apartment.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Mark Pettine said Upton was controlling and manipulative and that he had physically assaulted Abueg more than once.

The couple had separated for a time and Abueg had dated someone else before she and Upton reconciled, Pettine said.

Abueg got pregnant and had a son in May 1995, but asked the defendant "What if Christopher is not yours?" the prosecutor told the jury.

Pettine said Upton, then 20, responded, "I don't care, he's my son," adding that the child didn't look anything like Upton.

On Aug. 17, 1995, Abueg had made the final decision to leave the defendant -- threatening to go to his employers and tell them Upton had been stealing --- but Upton disabled the couple's car and wouldn't let her take her son, Pettine said.

Abueg's parents reported her missing on Aug. 20, 1995.

When police went to talk to Upton, he said his wife got angry and left the apartment, never to return.

Upton told investigators they argued because Abueg wouldn't change her last name to his, according to Pettine.

On Aug. 24, 1995, the day Abueg's body was discovered, Upton got a refund on his wife's wedding ring, telling a clerk that he and his spouse were "splitting up," the prosecutor told the jury.

A deputy medical examiner at the time ruled Abueg's manner of death a homicide, but couldn't rule out strangulation or suffocation as a cause of death, Pettine said.

During an Aug. 25, 1995, interview with detectives, Upton never asked what happened to his wife, the prosecutor said.

Upton was familiar with the area in the Cleveland National Forest where his wife's body was found, Pettine said. The prosecutor alleged that Upton waited until dark to wrap the body in a blanket and carry it down three flights of stairs so he could load the corpse in his car and dump the body.

Upton told police he went to Ensenada the night his wife went missing but came right back, returning at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 18. The next day, Upton placed his wife's purse in the road near the apartment complex so it would appear she was the victim of foul play by someone else, Pettine alleged.

In the Aug. 25, 1995, statement to police, Upton pointed the finger at a man he thought his wife was dating, the prosecutor said.

Paternity tests proved Abueg's child was not fathered by Upton or the man he pointed the finger at, Pettine told the jury.

Investigators went to Nevada in 2009 to re-interview Upton, and his version of what happened didn't match what he originally said, according to Pettine. Upton was arrested a few months later.

Deputy Public Defender Kevin Haughton said his client was innocent.

He said Upton and Abueg argued the night she walked out and she never came back, just like the defendant told investigators.

Haughton said medical examiners could not determine a cause of death and there was no evidence that Abueg was choked or strangled.

Upton volunteered information to detectives, such as the fact that his relationship with his wife was volatile and that he had hit her in the past, Haughton told the jury.

The defense attorney said investigators couldn't match tire tracks found near where Abueg's body was found to Upton's car.

Haughton said detectives failed to interview family members, co-workers or neighbors who might have seen or heard something the day Abueg disappeared.

"They (investigators) made no inquiry whatsoever," the defense attorney said.

Because of the passage of time, the inconsistencies in Upton's story are the same inconsistencies told by other witnesses, Haughton said.

He said the prosecution's theory of how Abueg died doesn't match the facts.

Upton faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

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