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Murder Jurors Hear Assault Victims

The three women take the stand in the trial of Vincent Sanchez, who is charged in the slaying of Moorpark College student Megan Barroso.

May 08, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

When an 18-year-old Simi Valley woman awoke to a rattling sound at her bedroom door six years ago, she thought it was her cat. She called out, but when there was no response, she knew something was wrong.

As she reached for the phone, she saw a knife slide between the door and the door jamb, lifting a simple hook-and-eye latch, and then the masked intruder burst in.

"He said, 'If you call anyone, I'll kill you,' " the woman testified Wednesday in Ventura County Superior Court, describing how the assailant held the knife to her throat and tried to drag her from the house.

The woman, identified as Jill S., was one of three assault victims called by prosecutors during the first day of testimony in the murder trial of Vincent Sanchez, an admitted serial rapist accused of killing a 20-year-old Moorpark College student during an alleged rape attempt two years ago.

Sanchez has pleaded guilty to more than 50 rape, burglary, assault, forcible oral copulation and kidnapping charges in connection with attacks on 12 women in Simi Valley between September 1996 and July 2001. He faces the equivalent of a life prison sentence but first must stand trial on the murder charge.

Prosecutors contend Sanchez killed Megan Barroso on July 5, 2001, during a kidnapping and rape attempt. They are seeking the death penalty.

Defense lawyers admit Sanchez killed Barroso but say sex had nothing to do with it. It is their theory that Sanchez killed Barroso during a drunken rage during which he fired an AK-47 assault rifle at her car as she exited the northbound Moorpark Freeway in Moorpark.

They dispute that Sanchez pulled the wounded woman from her car and tried to rape her before she died, as prosecutors have alleged, and in opening statements this week urged jurors not to let emotional testimony from prior sex assault victims cloud their judgment.

On Wednesday, prosecutors launched their case by calling three women who were assaulted in 1997 and 1999 by a masked assailant whom authorities now believe was Sanchez.

Angela W., as another victim was identified, told jurors she awoke in the early hours of Jan. 12, 1997, and saw an intruder in a ski mask creeping around her bedroom. She tried to run, but he pushed her down, straddled her on the bed and held a hand over her mouth, she testified.

During a struggle, the then-21-year-old Simi Valley woman reached under the mask and scratched the intruder, causing him to loosen his grip, she said. She screamed and he ran, with her in close pursuit. "I grabbed him and I went after him," she testified.

Angela W.'s cries alerted her parents, who called police.

Her mother testified Wednesday that jewelry was missing from the house after the incident. Prosecutors say those items were found six years later at Sanchez's residence.

Jill S., the woman who saw the knife in her door jamb, was attacked five months after the assault on Angela W. in her Simi Valley residence. She also screamed when the assailant loosened his grip while trying to pull her out of a living room window. She said the cries woke her parents and the intruder fled.

Years later, Simi Valley Police Department officials contacted her after serving a search warrant at Sanchez's residence. She testified that the defendant had a pair of her turquoise thong-style panties in his possession.

Tara B., the third victim to testify Wednesday, told jurors an assailant attacked her on Oct. 31, 1999, in the driveway of her Simi Valley home, held a gun to her head and forced her into her car. She testified that he forced her to perform sex acts on him as he drove her to another location, which prosecutors say was his house.

There, the assailant ordered her to undress and put on another pair of women's underwear before raping her on a sofa bed, she testified.

A videotaped recording of the sexual assault was later found by Sanchez's roommates and turned over to police.

Before the victims testified Wednesday, Chief Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn concluded his opening statement by urging jurors to look for inconsistencies between the prior sex assaults and the attack on Barroso.

He suggested that evidence would show Sanchez carefully planned the sex assaults, wearing a mask and gloves to conceal his identity and slipping into victims' homes through open windows, in contrast to the shooting of Barroso.

Quinn talked at length about his client's mental state in the months before Barroso's death and the obsession he had for estranged girlfriend Luz LaFarga that triggered episodes of rage, depression and suicidal feelings.

Sanchez was hospitalized in January 2001 and diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder. He was later released.

Quinn told jurors they would learn that in the days before the July 5 shooting, Sanchez became suicidal and threatened to shoot an assault rifle at a police car. Quinn said, "He had a temper that was remarkable and when it would flare, it was like he was another person."

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