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FOCUS: ORANGE COUNTY COMMUNITY NEWS | COUNTYWIDE

Search for Missing Woman Suspended

July 31, 1998|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Authorities called off a search of the Long Beach Harbor on Thursday after failing to find the body of a pregnant Fullerton woman, while her alleged assailants made their first court appearance on charges they killed her and her unborn child.

Jeanette Gomez Espeleta, 20, was last seen July 17. Earlier this week, police arrested two Anaheim men, including Henry Joseph Rodriguez, 22, and Richard Tovar, 21, who is believed to be the father of Espeleta's child.

Police suspect Tovar wanted to kill Espeleta to avoid paying child support.

A third man who was earlier named as a suspect, Nicholas Jeffrey Gray, 20, of Fullerton, was not charged Thursday, authorities said.

Authorities believe Espeleta was killed and her body dumped in the water off Long Beach, but a search for her remains was unsuccessful.

Police said more searches have not been immediately planned.

Tovar and Rodriguez appeared in Municipal Court in Fullerton on Thursday on two counts of murder. Their arraignments were postponed until Aug. 21.

Following a state Supreme Court ruling in 1994, the law allows for prosecution in the killing of a fetus. The ruling came in the wake of a San Diego case in which a 20-year-old man was convicted of murder for causing a woman to miscarry during a robbery.

Espeleta told her family shortly before she disappeared that she had served Tovar with court papers notifying him that he would be responsible for child support after their baby was born, said her sister, Jennifer Gomez Espeleta.

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