VENTURA — Three months after he led authorities to the body of a missing Oak View teenager, David Ramiro Alvarez was charged Thursday with Kali Manley's murder.
In a brief court appearance, Alvarez, 22, pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted rape, charges that make the Ojai man eligible for the death penalty.
Authorities allege that Alvarez strangled Manley while trying to force the teen to have sex with him.
"We believe the murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in an attempted rape," said Bill Maile, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case.
Alvarez's attorney angrily denied that his client tried to rape the 14-year-old girl. "Not only was there no rape in this case," said James Farley, "there was not even an attempted rape. And not only should this not be a capital case, this should not even be a first-degree murder case."
Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Katz, the prosecutor, said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty and refused to speculate when a decision might be made.
Manley, a Nordhoff High School freshman, disappeared after visiting a friend's home on Dec. 20. She was last seen at a convenience store with Alvarez and another man, police said.
A weeklong search for Manley came to a close when Alvarez led authorities to her body, hidden in a drainage pipe near Pine Mountain in the Ventura back country. An autopsy showed Manley had been strangled to death.
Alvarez was arrested the day after Manley's disappearance on a separate charge of assault with a deadly weapon and has remained in jail since. Authorities say that during the stop at the convenience store, Alvarez pointed a gun at a woman with whom he had a long-standing feud.
Alvarez also faces a misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly assaulting his 20-year-old wife, Brooke, last August.
Prosecutors did not say why it took several months to file the murder charge. Sheriff's Department spokesman Capt. Keith Parks, however, said investigators were in no hurry, because Alvarez was already in jail.
"He was in custody; it was unlikely he would be getting out on bail," Parks said. "That gave us all the opportunity in the world to make sure we covered every aspect of this case before charges were filed."
Action was also slowed because the Ventura County district attorney's office first had to relinquish control of the case. Citing a concern over the "appearance of impropriety" because of his friendship with the suspect's parents, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury turned the case over to the attorney general on Feb. 2.
Charles Manley, Kali Manley's father, said in a telephone interview that the length of time it took to file a murder charge made the family "a little bit concerned."
"But we just have every confidence the prosecutor is doing all the right things," Manley said. "We are happy that justice is proceeding."
Attorney Jay Johnson, representing the Alvarez family, said Alvarez's parents would not comment on the murder charges.
Alvarez is scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Edward Brodie on May 25 for a preliminary hearing.