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Body Discovered; May Be Missing Woman's

October 07, 1986|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

Investigators Monday dug up a body in a shallow grave in Corona that may be that of Debbie Ann Lee, the Garden Grove woman who has been missing since Aug. 1 and whose former boyfriend has been charged with murder in her presumed death, police said.

The body was located by an investigator working for the attorney of Robert Martin Gray Jr., who is accused of killing Miss Lee, Garden Grove Police Lt. Chuck Gibbs said.

Garden Grove detectives were at the grave site Monday, but they were unable to positively identify the body, Gibbs said.

"It may be Debbie Lee," Gibbs said. "The fact that the defendant's investigator found her is a good indication. But we cannot tell for sure until the autopsy. If the body has been out there in excess of two months, in this heat, it's going to decompose fairly rapidly."

An autopsy by the Riverside County coroner's office is expected to be performed today, Gibbs said.

The body was found near Lincoln and Ontario streets in an area of lemon and orange groves in south Corona, Gibbs said.

Gray, 30, of Garden Grove is in Orange County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail. He was ordered at a preliminary hearing last month in West Orange County Municipal Court to stand trial for murder. The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

At the preliminary hearing, Robert J. Estrada, a former employee at Gray's stereo shop, testified that he helped Gray remove Miss Lee's body from a trailer behind the shop the day she disappeared.

Estrada also said at the hearing that Gray was angry at the woman because he believed she had given him AIDS. Doctors have examined Gray and found no evidence that he has been infected with the virus believed to cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Another witness at the hearing testified that Gray had offered him $3,000 to kill Miss Lee on the day she was last seen alive.

Richard Banuelos, who at the time was an inmate at the Orange County Jail after a drunk-driving conviction, said Gray asked him "to blow her away" because he believed he had contracted AIDS from his former girlfriend and had passed it on to his parents.

Bruce C. Bridgman, Gray's attorney, argued unsuccessfully at the hearing that the prosecution's evidence against his client was insufficient to hold him for trial.

Gray surrendered to Garden Grove police Aug. 7, the day after authorities obtained a homicide arrest warrant for him in connection with Miss Lee's disappearance. After turning himself in, Gray led detectives on a search for her body in Corona and northeastern Orange County, but none was found.

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