SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A former Camp Pendleton Marine accused of strangling a masseuse in a downtown San Diego massage parlor more than 35 years ago pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a murder charge.
Leon Johnson, 57, is accused in the death of Luz Borrayo.
Though the defendant was arraigned Tuesday, the setting of a trial date was postponed until Wednesday, when the case will be assigned to a judge for all purposes.
Johnson was serving a life sentence in Mississippi for murdering a store clerk when he was extradited to San Diego last summer in connection with Borrayo's slaying.
San Diego police were sent to the Twilight Massage Parlor on Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp District on Nov. 22, 1975, after someone called to say the 27-year-old Borrayo had been beaten and knocked out by a patron.
A woman who worked at the massage parlor told police that two customers came in the night of the murder, and that she helped one of the men and Borrayo was assigned to the other, who gave the name "Leon," according to court documents.
The woman said the man she was helping said he was a Marine from Ohio who wanted a free massage with "all of the extras," then grabbed her and pulled her onto a couch in the lobby, but she was able to get away.
She said Borrayo, meanwhile, was in a room with the man who called himself "Leon" for 45 to 50 minutes.
During that time, the woman said she heard a couple of thumps on the wall. She said the two men eventually left and she found Borrayo lying on the floor.
Borrayo's body was partially clothed and a piece of material had been knotted and tied around her neck. An autopsy showed that the victim died from asphyxiation due to strangulation.
No suspects were identified at the time, but in 2002, a member of the San Diego Police Department's cold-case team submitted evidence for testing, and authorities obtained a DNA profile of Borrayo's killer and entered it into a database, eventually getting a "hit" on Johnson's profile.
Johnson is serving a life prison sentence in Mississippi for the 1982 murder of a 55-year-old convenience store clerk in Meridian.
Because it was the punishment at the time of the 1975 crime, Johnson faces seven years to life behind bars if convicted in Borrayo's murder, said Deputy District Attorney Andrea Freshwater.