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Jury Deliberates Fate of Oxnard Parolee Accused of Murder

Courts: Prosecutors argue Cruz Alcantar killed a woman to prevent her from reporting a traffic accident. Defense says the evidence doesn't add up.

April 24, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After hearing closing arguments Monday, jurors began deciding whether an Oxnard parolee stabbed a 41-year-old woman and left her to die on a sidewalk.

A prosecutor argued that Cruz Alcantar killed Anna Mendez to prevent her from calling police about an auto accident they'd been in that night. Alcantar, 25, had been deported, was living in this country illegally and feared returning to prison, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy.

"With no more emotion than it would take to discard a piece of garbage in the trash, the defendant took Anna Mendez's life," Murphy said. "And with it he took every bit of decency she had."

Defense attorney Steve Lipson said Alcantar met and drank with Mendez, a mother of four who occasionally worked as a prostitute, at an Oxnard bar on April 23 last year but did not kill her. "He is on parole," Lipson said. "But that doesn't mean he killed Anna Mendez."

The intoxicated pair left the bar in Alcantar's Mazda truck. A few minutes later, a tire blew out and the truck hit another vehicle, causing Mendez's head to slam into the windshield.

At his home, Alcantar helped Mendez clean up her wounds, and then she left to walk home.

Murphy said Alcantar followed Mendez and stabbed her in the throat and heart.

Mendez was found about 5 a.m. on a sidewalk in the Colonia neighborhood, a few blocks from Alcantar's house. Her neck had been slashed and there were stab wounds in her chest.

Alcantar, who held a construction job and lived with his sister, was arrested the next day as he was walking to work. He was holding a bag containing Mendez's pants, shoes, underwear and purse.

Murphy said the physical evidence, which included a partial fingerprint on the knife and Mendez's blood on Alcantar's pants and under his fingernail, overwhelmingly proved that he was the murderer. Alcantar also was the last person seen with Mendez, and his blood was found on her clothes, Murphy said.

During the trial, a former cellmate and acquaintance of Alcantar's testified that Alcantar admitted stabbing the woman because he feared going back to prison if she contacted authorities. The cellmate, Sergio Colmenares, also testified that Alcantar told him he thought he had wiped his fingerprints off the knife.

Lipson said the cellmate lied so he could avoid going to prison for his own crimes. Colmenares faced more than 12 years in state prison for spousal abuse and probation violations. Instead, the former gang member is expected to receive three years in county jail for testifying against Alcantar.

Lipson also argued that it was very unlikely that Mendez, who was drunk, would have called police at 2 a.m. to report a minor traffic collision.

"It's completely unbelievable," he said. "Anna Mendez wouldn't do that in a million years."

Semen found on Mendez's leg the night of her death was not from Alcantar. And there was not enough blood found on Alcantar or his clothing for him to be the plausible killer, Lipson said, explaining that the blood resulted from her injuries in the collision.

"Whoever killed this poor woman had blood all over them," he said. "Cruz Alcantar had nearly none."

Prosecutors also portrayed Alcantar as a man on the run who would do anything he had to to stay out of prison. For example, he was arrested for drunk driving but used a fake name and didn't report the arrest to his parole officer.

But Lipson said his client wouldn't have picked up his vehicle from the police tow yard after that arrest if he was so afraid of authorities.

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