SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A gang member murdered a 14-year-old girl in an abandoned house in Golden Hill on New Year's Eve 2007, a prosecutor said Thursday, but a defense attorney said another man's DNA was found under the victim's fingernails.
Antero Cruz, 24, is charged with murder in the Dec. 31, 2007, death of Ahlyja Pinson.
During opening statements of Cruz's trial, Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler said the defendant beat, stabbed and strangled the victim in the home on E Street near 29th Street, which was a well-known haven for illegal activities.
For three days after the killing, the victim was known as Jane Doe because there was no identification near the body. Spieler said.
She said Pinson had puncture wounds all over her body and she died from repeated blows to her head.
There was so much blood in the room where the victim was killed that police thought she had been shot, the prosecutor said.
Cruz's palm print was found on a wall in the abandoned home and he was arrested 11 days after the murder, but he was released as investigators continued looking for evidence, Spieler said.
While he was in jail, Cruz called a friend, admitted the murder and even bragged about it, the prosecutor told the jury.
Detectives re-interviewed witnesses and some new witnesses came forward, and Cruz was re-arrested and charged in October 2010, the prosecutor said.
"It's been four years and it's time that Ahlyja's story be heard," Spieler told the jury.
The night she was killed, Pinson had plans to go out with her cousin, the prosecutor said. A man the cousin was dating had a sister who was the defendant's girlfriend, Spieler said.
The prosecutor said Pinson never met up with her cousin but was at the defendant's home about 3:40 p.m. that day.
The defendant's girlfriend, knowing Cruz was a flirt, asked Pinson what she was doing there and the victim left, Spieler said.
After he was confronted by his girlfriend, the defendant also left in a car, according to the prosecutor.
Later that evening, a homeless man saw a Hispanic couple go into the abandoned house on E Street, where he had been hanging out, Spieler said.
The homeless man left the home but returned an hour later and thought he heard a noise downstairs, Spieler said.
When he went to investigate, he saw the girl's body.
"He knew she wasn't OK," the prosecutor said.
A friend of the defendant said Cruz came by that night with blood on him and asked for a change of clothes, Spieler told the jury.
When asked what happened, the defendant responded, "Better you don't know," according to Spieler.
About 8 p.m., Cruz told his girlfriend that he got in a fight with rival gang members, the prosecutor said. The defendant told his girlfriend that if police came by, she should tell them he had been home, according to Spieler.
She said Cruz and his girlfriend celebrated New Year's while police were investigating Pinson's murder.
In addition to the defendant's DNA, the DNA of another man, Orlando Duarte, was found on toothpicks used to scrape under the victim's fingernails, which were short, Spieler said.
Spieler said there would be a question as to whether Duarte's DNA was found under the victim's fingernails or on the flesh of her fingers.
A prosecution expert will testify how DNA can be transferred, Spieler said.
Duarte told police he was at the abandoned house storing cans two days before the murder, but never returned.
He told authorities he was gay and had no interest in women, the prosecutor said.
She said Duarte was arrested about a month after the murder but never formally charged.
Two years after the murder, detectives re-interviewed Cruz's girlfriend, who told them for the first time that he had gotten up early to wash his car the morning after Pinson was killed.
The victim's blood was found on a rubber liner on the trunk, according to the prosecutor.
In her opening statement, defense attorney Jo E. Super said the victim's defensive wounds were clear and she "fought for her life."
Super said Duarte has given several different versions of where he was the night of the murder, including one version three weeks ago in which he admitted smoking cigarettes in the room where the victim was murdered.
His DNA was found on cigarette butts, adhesive bandages and under the victim's fingernails, Super told the jury.
She urged jurors to find Cruz not guilty.
If convicted, Cruz faces 33 years to life in prison.
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