Trial ordered for men accused in 1993 murders of two sailors in - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trial ordered for men accused in 1993 murders of two sailors in Otay Mesa

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two men accused of robbing and fatally shooting a pair of San Diego-based sailors 18 years ago in an area of Otay Mesa popular for after-hours drinking and bonfires must stand trial on murder charges, a judge ruled Thursday.

After a two-day preliminary hearing, Judge Roger Krauel ruled that enough evidence was presented for Edward Jesus Elias and Leopoldo Castro Chavez II to stand trial in the Sept. 25, 1993 deaths of 20-year-old Eugene "Cliff" Ellis and 23-year-old Keith Combs. Both victims were stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.

A Superior Court arraignment was set for Sept. 28. The 35-year-old defendants are each charged with two counts of murder and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during a robbery.

Because they were 17 at the time of the killings, Elias and Chavez are not eligible for the death penalty and face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Freshwater said.

Retired San Diego police homicide Detective David Swiskoski testified Wednesday that both victims were shot twice in the head and once in the chest from close range.

Swiskoski said the victims were found 10-12 feet apart in an area east of Palm Avenue and Interstate 805, where they had gone to have a bonfire and
drink beer with other Navy personnel.

A half-dozen .22-caliber shell casings, a camera and a cigarette butt with freshly burned ashes were found near the bodies, the witness testified.

A few days after the slayings, Chavez was caught driving Ellis' stolen pickup in Tijuana and was arrested. He was questioned by detectives but they
were unable to connect him to the murders, police said.

Although police recovered genetic evidence apparently belonging to the killer, the original investigation came to a dead end.

In November 2009, San Diego police laboratory personnel notified the department's cold-case investigators of a potential match between the previously unidentified biological evidence recovered from the site of the slayings and Chavez's profile in a national database. He was arrested in July 2010 at his home in Washington state and eventually extradited to San Diego.

Fingerprints found in the stolen vehicle pointed to Elias, who was arrested and charged in April, Freshwater said.

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