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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Defendant Told of Killing Woman, Ex-Cellmate Testifies

Court: He says the parolee admitted stabbing her to prevent her from calling police after a traffic accident. Defense says story is a ruse to avoid prison.

April 21, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oxnard parolee admitted killing a woman to prevent her from calling police after the two got into a traffic accident, his former cellmate testified Friday.

"He told me he went after her and killed her," Sergio Colmenares said. "He said he couldn't let her put him in jail."

The cellmate testified during the trial of Cruz Alcantar, charged with killing 41-year-old Anna Mendez in April 2000 after a night of drinking and dancing at an Oxnard bar.

Mendez, a mother of four who had worked as a prostitute, was found on the sidewalk early the next morning with her throat slashed and stab wounds to her chest.

Police arrested the 25-year-old Alcantar April 25 as he was walking to work. In Ventura County Jail, he ended up in the same cell as Colmenares.

At the time of Mendez's death, authorities said, Alcantar was living in the country illegally after serving time for felony child molestation. They said he also had recently been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and had not reported the arrest to his parole officer.

Colmenares said his cellmate told him he was worried about being sent back to prison if Mendez called police.

Alcantar's defense attorney attacked Colmenares' credibility, saying he was a gang member with a criminal record who fabricated the story so he could cut a deal with the district attorney's office.

"You'll do whatever it takes to avoid going to prison, right?" Deputy Public Defender Steve Lipson asked Colmenares, who responded, "Yes."

Colmenares, 23, has been convicted twice of felony spousal abuse, along with petty theft and assault. He called prosecutors in October to offer them what he knew if they would help him avoid state prison.

In exchange for testifying against Alcantar, Colmenares now faces three years in County Jail on his latest spousal abuse charge and probation violations, instead of a possible 12 years and seven months in state prison.

Colmenares admitted he was lucky Alcantar told him about the crime.

"Not everyone comes up to you and tells you, 'Hey, I killed somebody,' " he testified.

The witness and defendant had known each other years before in the Colonia neighborhood of Oxnard. So when they were placed in the same cell in September, it didn't take long for them to gain each other's trust, Colmenares testified.

Colmenares said after he shared details of his charges with Alcantar, the defendant confided in him.

On the witness stand Friday, Colmenares recalled what Alcantar allegedly told him during their conversations in Spanish.

Said Colmenares: Alcantar saw Mendez, whose daughter he had dated briefly, at the Tlaquepaque Bar in Oxnard. They got drunk together before he offered her a ride home. While they were in his Mazda truck, the tire popped, the truck ran into a van and Mendez's head smashed into the windshield.

They went back to Alcantar's house, where he helped clean up her cuts, Colmenares said he was told by Alcantar. Mendez wanted to call police, but Alcantar wouldn't let her, Colmenares said.

"He said he had gone to prison once over a girl," Colmenares testified. "He told me he couldn't let it happen twice."

So when she left, Alcantar followed her and stabbed her to death on Colonia Road, Colmenares said.

Colmenares added that the defendant said he thought he had wiped the fingerprints off the knife and was surprised police had found a print. Colmenares said his cellmate also seemed confident about beating the murder charge and was taking Bible classes so he would look good.

"He told me, 'I'm gonna get away with it,' " Colmenares said.

Lipson said his client did tell Colmenares about drinking with Mendez but did not say anything about killing her.

Although Colmenares said details on the slaying came from Alcantar, he admitted in court he had skimmed one newspaper article and heard about the killing from his mother-in-law.

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