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VALLEY FOCUS | Van Nuys

Man Pleads Not Guilty in Salon Crime Spree

September 29, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER

A man accused of robbing 30 beauty salons during a six-month crime spree in which he allegedly shot and sexually assaulted a number of women pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday in Van Nuys Municipal Court.

A preliminary hearing for Walter Antonio Cortez, 26, is scheduled Oct. 27, a spokeswoman with the district attorney's office said.

Described by detectives as a transient from Van Nuys, North Hills and Maywood, Cortez faces 35 felony charges in a string of armed robberies dating back to March 18.

The charges include murder, attempted murder, 11 counts of robbery, nine counts of false imprisonment, four counts of attempted rape, three counts of sexual battery, one count of sodomy and five counts of witness intimidation.

Cortez's attorney, Dan Kuperberg, a public defender in the Van Nuys office, said it would be premature to comment on the case.

Cortez, who was arrested Sept. 15, has been linked to about 30 armed robberies at hair and nail salons. Five of the cases involved sexual assaults in the San Fernando Valley, police said.

During a robbery at a party store just west of downtown Los Angeles, police said, Cortez shot the pregnant owner three times and fled. Although the fetus was not hit, it died of complications from the surviving mother's wounds.

In another incident near downtown Los Angeles, Cortez shot and wounded a person for looking at him, police said. With the exception of the murder and attempted-murder charges, the majority of the crimes occurred in the Valley, police said.

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