An Ocean Beach man accused of killing his estranged wife and dumping her body in a trash bin about a week before he was to start paying child support must stand trial on charges that could result in the death penalty, a judge ruled today.
Henry Lisowski, 68, is charged with murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain in the death of 50-year-old Rosa Lisowski.
The victim disappeared last March 24 after walking her young son to school near her home in the Midway-Loma Portal area of San Diego. Her body has never been found.
Rosa Lisowski had four children, including two by the defendant.
Laura Miller, the victim's divorce attorney, testified during the two-day preliminary hearing that her client initiated court proceedings to get custody of the children and to make her estranged husband pay her child support.
Miller said she suspected Henry Lisowski had underreported his income in a court declaration. She testified that the court ordered the defendant to pay just over $1,000 a month in child support to his wife.
"He was extremely angry," Miller testified.
The estranged couple were supposed to be in court last April 1 for a hearing to review the child support arrangements, Miller testified.
The divorce attorney said Henry Lisowski produced a prenuptial agreement with Rosa Lisowski's signature, but the victim had told her that she never signed it and that she had seen her husband forge other documents.
Miller's paralegal, Treva Cutts, testified that Rosa Lisowski told her that her husband offered to pay her $50,000 if she dropped the custody case and fired Miller.
"He told her he would take the kids and he would never pay child support to her," Cutts testified.
The paralegal said the victim also told her that the defendant repeatedly threatened her, saying he would hire someone to kill her and he would go to jail and she would be dead, leaving the children without a mother and father.
Cutts said Rosa Lisowski was not very well-off financially and refused to drop the child support/custody case.
"I told her she was entitled to get money," the paralegal testified.
As the case wore on, the victim grew more afraid of the defendant, Cutts said.
"She was just a mess," Cutts testified. "She said that she knew for a fact that Henry would kill her."
Cutts said Rosa Lisowski showed her letters written by the defendant, in which he told the victim she would "never get away" with trying to force him to pay child support.
"That's how she lived ... under his thumb," the witness testified.
San Diego police Officer Richard Perkins said he responded to a 911 call on Nov. 13, 2006. He said Rosa Lisowski told him that her estranged husband had threatened her during an argument over child support, "and with one phone call she would be dead."
Officer Michael McEwen, a financial crimes expert for the San Diego Police Department, testified that the defendant -- in a filing with Family Court -- underreported his income by $1.4 million.
David Cornacchia, a criminalist with the Forensic Biology Unit of the San Diego Police Department, testified Tuesday that blood found in the defendant's kitchen and vehicle cargo mat is likely that of the victim.
SDPD Detective John Tefft testified that he received an anonymous letter last Sept. 5 that began with "in case of my death" and described a version of what happened to Rosa Lisowski. The defendant was arrested the same day the detective got the letter.
A forensic document examiner later said the handwriting appeared to be that of the defendant.
In the letter, the writer said Rosa Lisowski came to his residence on the last day she was seen and engaged in sex with him, and she fell on stairs and hit her head on the way out. He put her in the back of his car, but she stopped breathing, according to the letter.
With blood on him, he realized the situation appeared suspicious, so he took her back home, the letter writer said.
"He decides that he needs to dispose of the body," Tefft said.
The writer said he put her back in the car and drove toward Mexico, but instead veered off on Highway 94 and eventually placed the body in a trash bin near the Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Investigators later checked trash bins in the area but never found the body, the detective said.
Rosa Lisowski's former roommate said the woman had expressed concern about threats made by her estranged husband.
Lilian Rivera testified that Rosa Lisowski had told her she was concerned for her safety because he had threatened her over a child custody battle.
"She told me that he told her that she was never going to see her children grow up," Rivera testified. "He was trying to get her to drop the (child custody) case."
Days before she disappeared, the victim met with her estranged husband near her apartment, Rivera testified. At some point, he told the 50-year-old victim that "he wouldn't think twice about getting somebody to 'disappear' her," the witness testified.
Michael Rozenfeld, who had a business with Henry Lisowski, testified that he noticed a scratch on the defendant's face when they were renting a U-Haul trailer the afternoon that Rosa disappeared.
Rozenfeld said Lisowski told him that he must have scratched himself while putting a battery in a truck.
Rozenfeld said he and others also received a letter from Lisowski describing his version of what happened to his wife.
Judge John Thompson ruled that based on the evidence presented, there was probable cause to believe the defendant was guilty as charged. Lisowski was immediately arraigned and had his trial set for April 9.
The District Attorney's Office will now decide whether to pursue the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if Lisowski is convicted.
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