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 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges.
Edward Jesus Elias and Leopoldo Castro Chavez II, both 35, are accused in the Sept. 25, 1993, deaths of 20-year-old Eugene "Cliff" Ellis and 23-year-old Keith Combs. The victims were stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.
Both defendants are charged with two counts of murder and special circumstance allegations of murder during a robbery and multiple murders.
Because they were 17 at the time of the killings, Elias and Chavez are not eligible for the death penalty and would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Freshwater said.
A status conference was set for Oct. 7, when the case is expected to be assigned to a judge for trial.
Retired San Diego police homicide Detective David Swiskoski testified at a preliminary hearing earlier this month 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 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.
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.
The San Diego County unemployment rate remained steady at 3.3 percent between November and December despite a loss of 3,500 jobs.
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck offshore in Mexico's Gulf of California on Friday morning, but there were no immediate reports of damage.
Scattered showers and lower temperatures are in the forecast Friday for San Diego County with snow possible in the mountains at gradually lower elevations throughout the day.
Teachers in the Solana Beach School District, who have been without contracts for months, on Thursday pushed for new contracts, but the district is not backing down.
A Ramona man was arrested Thursday on suspicion of stealing tip jars from a half-dozen Poway businesses.
People who take their pets to Del Mar's dog beach wanted to know who planted the incredible garden there.
Local first-responders who put their lives on the line to help victims of the deadly Montecito mudslides were back home Thursday.
A man accused of stabbing a woman to death near an Encanto Park made his first court appearance Thursday.