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Ruse in Mexico Used to Arrest Slaying Suspect

September 18, 1990|MICHAEL CONNELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A construction engineer living openly in a small Mexican town while he was sought for years by Los Angeles police has been arrested on a charge that he shot his brother-in-law to death seven years ago in Van Nuys, Los Angeles police said Monday.

Gregorio V. Huerta, a 41-year-old Mexican citizen who fled to the town of Jalpa in the state of Zacatecas after Gary Beresford was slain July 18, 1983, was arrested Friday night after he stepped out of his house to talk with a man he thought had wanted to hire him for a construction project.

The man posing as a potential customer was actually Detective George Padilla, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department's Foreign Prosecution Unit. Huerta was taken into custody by the state judicial police and was being held in Zacatecas without bail.

"One thing he said to the arresting officers was that he had been expecting that one day the police would come," said Detective James Vojtecky, head of the Van Nuys homicide squad.

"He wasn't in hiding. He was living a normal life. There is a good possibility he was living there the whole time."

Because Mexico does not extradite its citizens for trial in the United States, Huerta will be tried in Mexico for the Los Angeles slaying, officials said. Los Angeles police have provided federal prosecutors in Mexico with translated crime reports and other evidence.

Huerta's arrest ended an off-and-on-again search that began when Beresford, 34, was fatally shot in an apartment on Oxnard Street. The reason for the dispute has never been determined, Vojtecky said. But information from witnesses and other evidence led detectives to begin an immediate search for Huerta--the brother of Beresford's wife--and an arrest warrant was issued charging him with the slaying.

But investigators believed at the time that Huerta had fled to his native Mexico and that his whereabouts there were unknown. Under department policy, however, unsolved slayings are reviewed annually for new leads and this year detectives recontacted witnesses in the case and individuals who knew Huerta.

"Once a year the case was pulled out and the detectives worked it," Vojtecky said. "This time, certain witnesses said they believed Huerta was residing in this small town in Mexico."

Detectives obtained an address where Huerta was receiving mail in Jalpa and learned that he was working as a construction engineer there, police said. Last week, Padilla and two other Los Angeles detectives went to Jalpa. At the address Huerta used as a mail drop, Padilla posed as a man who was looking to hire Huerta for a construction project and was directed to another house where he was told Huerta could be found.

Huerta was arrested at the second address Friday night after Padilla tried the same ruse and Huerta came out of his house to discuss the job.

The murder trial will probably take several months under Mexican judicial procedures, officials said. If Huerta is convicted, he will be sentenced to a Mexican prison term.

It was the 117th time in the five-year history of the department's Foreign Prosecution Unit that it has helped bring charges in a foreign country for a Los Angeles slaying.

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