SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man who strangled his estranged wife, then put her body in a car and set it ablaze at UC San Diego, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder and arson.
Julio Angel Garcia-Puente was arrested Nov. 5, 2010, in Tijuana and turned over to San Diego police in connection with the killing of 38-year-old Lorena Gonzalez.
The defendant faces 16 years and four months to life in prison when sentenced by Judge Robert O'Neill on Jan. 20.
Prosecutors alleged that Garcia, 50, killed his estranged wife at the end of last October, days before her car was found ablaze in a UCSD parking lot off Voigt Drive in La Jolla.
While extinguishing the blaze, firefighters discovered the victim's charred body inside. Two of Gonzalez's front teeth were found in her throat from a blow to the face, and her neck was fractured in three places, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.
Garcia told investigators that his estranged wife's death was an accident, Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney said.
She said Garcia thought Gonzalez was seeing someone else and confronted her about it. He said he pushed her when she slapped him, and she hit her head on some furniture and died, according to Rooney.
Garcia told police he panicked, wrapped the body in a blanket and put it in the car, ultimately setting it on fire, the prosecutor said.
Gonzalez's pastor testified that he knew the couple were having marital problems, Rooney said.
She said the victim's family agreed to the plea agreement.
"They felt comfortable with this being labeled an intentional killing," Rooney said.
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