SANTA ANA — In calm and measured tones, a prosecutor Thursday graphically described the last horrific hours of 23-year-old Denise Huber's life, saying she was dragged from her car, sexually assaulted and smashed in the head 31 times with a roofer's nail puller.
"Denise Huber did not go easily," Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans said during opening statements in the trial of 39-year-old John J. Famalaro.
Evans said Famalaro took Huber to the Laguna Niguel warehouse where he had been living, sodomized her, then "decided Denise Huber would not be allowed to live."
Famalaro put three plastic bags over the Newport Beach woman's head and struck her with such "fierce and devastating blows," Evans said, that parts of the bags were found embedded in her skull three years later when her frozen body was discovered.
Famalaro, a former Lake Forest house painter, sat impassively during Evans' remarks in Orange County Superior Court. He could face the death penalty if convicted of kidnapping and murdering Huber after her car broke down on the Costa Mesa Freeway in the middle of the night on June 3, 1991.
Famalaro was arrested three years later when her nude, bludgeoned and handcuffed body was found in a freezer stored in a Ryder moving truck that was parked in the driveway of Famalaro's Arizona home.
Evans said Famalaro kept Huber's frozen body "as a perverse trophy to remind himself of the success he had that night."
Huber was driving home from a rock concert in Inglewood when a rear tire of her car blew out, forcing her to stop on the freeway shoulder less than three miles from home.
"That flat tire cost her her life," Evans told the jury.
The flat occurred in a well-lit area, where Huber easily could have used a call box or walked to a nearby convenience store by going through an opening in a chain-link fence. But before she could, he contended, Famalaro appeared and kidnapped her.
Evans displayed a large photo of the black high heels Huber wore that night, showing the leather stripped off the backs.
"At some point in their meeting, the defendant dragged her," Evans said. "The defendant was concerned that Ms. Huber would be able to identify him or that Ms. Huber was going to be able to see where he was going to take her. So he blindfolded her."
As the crime unfolded, Famalaro placed three white plastic bags over Huber's head "to control the bleeding," then "he raised his hand and struck her as hard as he could in the head," Evans said.
Huber's mother, Ione Huber, 53, of Mandan, Ariz., sat in the back row Thursday, the first time she has been in the same room with Famalaro. Her husband, Dennis, 57, will arrive in Orange County over the weekend to attend the trial, she said.
On Thursday, Ione Huber said she got through the first day fine.
"I was sitting back in the corner away from him," she said. "I don't know how it will be when I actually have to go up there and testify."
Famalaro's 71-year-old mother, Anne Famalaro of Arizona, was sitting in the row ahead of Ione Huber. She became visibly upset during Evans' remarks.
Later, she said the odds were stacked against her son, whom she described as "a good boy."
"It's like David and Goliath," she said.
Witness Robert Calvert, 28, of Huntington Beach, who was the last of Huber's family or friends to see her alive, testified that Huber had dropped him off after the concert and had headed home.
Calvert said they each had "four to five shots of vodka" and some beers. He said they were not intoxicated.
Under cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia focused on that issue. He said outside court that it was not his intent to allege that Huber was drunk but to suggest that she had drunk enough to not want to summon help from authorities and to take "a little more risk than you might otherwise do in that situation."
But Gumlia said he wanted to make clear that his questions were "not in any way meant to cast aspersions on Denise Huber at all."