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3 More Arrested in Killing of O.C. High School Wrestler

Authorities say the two women and a boy helped in the gruesome slaying of the athlete, whose body was found at a construction site.

November 15, 2003|David Reyes, H.G. Reza and Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

A popular high school student's girlfriend and two others were arrested Friday in the grisly murder of the 17-year-old, who was shot to death and then set afire in a violent outburst apparently resulting from a lover's triangle.

Authorities said the three -- two women and a 16-year-old boy -- assisted Brandan Dante Perry, 20, in the slaying of El Modena High School wrestling team captain Diego Armando Gonzalez-Sanchez, whose body was found Monday at a construction site in the hillside community of Orange Park Acres.

Orange residents Veronica Paz, 21, Kimberly Gomez, 20, and an unidentified 16-year-old boy who is related to Gomez were taken into custody before dawn Friday.

Paz was charged with murder and the two others of being accessories in the slaying of Gonzalez-Sanchez. Perry, once a local high school football star, was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder.

At a hearing Friday for the three adults, prosecutors alleged Perry and Paz waited for Gonzalez-Sanchez at the scene and that Perry shot him twice in the head. Gomez later provided the pair with a false alibi, prosecutors said.

Gomez sat in the corner of a caged cubicle crying softly. Paz and Perry sat emotionless about seven feet apart. Perry frequently stared at Paz, who avoided looking at him. Minutes before they were led from the courtroom in shackles, she turned and looked at her co-defendant, who quickly cast his eyes away.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly ordered Perry and Paz held without bond. He set bail for Gomez at $50,000.

Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona said the investigation is continuing and that others may have been involved.

Carona said a homeowner near the murder scene said he heard "two popping sounds" about 1 a.m. Monday and a car leaving the area. After Gonzalez-Sanchez was shot, a flammable liquid was used to torch his body in an attempt to destroy evidence and prevent identification, he said. He wouldn't say what type of gun was used and said deputies are still searching for the weapon.

"Young men aren't supposed to die this way," Carona said.

Both Gonzalez-Sanchez and Perry had dated Paz, sources close to the investigation and friends of the three said. The two young men had quarreled at least once, and Gonzalez-Sanchez had recently told friends he planned to end his relationship with Paz.

On Friday, Carona wouldn't discuss a motive.

"Because of the ongoing investigation, there's a lot of things we can't share with you," he said. "There are connections between all of these individuals."

Paz, Gomez and the victim all worked at a Stater Bros. grocery in Orange. Paz's father, who declined to give his first name, said Friday that his daughter witnessed Gonzalez-Sanchez's murder but played no part in the slaying.

"She had no culpability. She didn't pull the trigger," he said. "And when all the facts come out, we know she'll be let go. She's innocent in all this."

Friends and family describe Gonzalez-Sanchez as a popular athlete who had ambitions of joining the military and later becoming a firefighter.

Gonzalez-Sanchez failed to call home Sunday after telling his parents he was heading out for a jog. His parents filed a missing person's report Tuesday, not knowing that his unidentified body had already been found. The family then hired a private investigator.

Helen Ponacquisti, who lives in Anaheim and attended Friday's hearing, said she has known Perry, a friend of her son Aaron, for 15 years.

"He was the most loving kid you could ever meet," she said. "I can't understand how this happened."

Ben Haley, Perry's former football coach at Santiago High School, described him as a gifted athlete who cut classes and ran away from home at least twice.

"We worked very hard with him to try and keep him on the straight and narrow," Haley said. Haley coached Perry for three years, during which the running back rushed for 1,800 yards. During one game in 1999, he gained 248 yards.

On the field, Perry was a star. The classroom was another story, said Haley. When Perry wasn't in class, Haley would go and get him. "I'd go get somebody to cover my class and walk across the street to where Brandan lived, knock on his door and pull him out and get him to school," the coach said.

Perry didn't play football his senior year because his low grades made him ineligible.

"He was a very intelligent young man, but very passive-aggressive," Haley said. "He would be very quiet, and then out of the clear blue he was very explosive."

On Friday, candles and scattered flowers marked the site where Gonzalez-Sanchez died. The property at 19762 Hi Top Lane is an abandoned construction site popular with teens for its seclusion and sweeping views. Horseback riders trot along the narrow winding streets in the surrounding neighborhood.

On unfinished foundation walls, spray-painted messages honored Gonzalez-Sanchez. "We will always have you in our hearts," read one. Gravel and concrete were stained red.

Kenny Demara, 27, who came to see where his friend died, said Gonzalez-Sanchez was trying to end his relationship with Paz because she was also seeing Perry.

"I know he fought for his life up here," Demara said. "He wasn't the type to back down."

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Times staff writer Mike Anton contributed to this report.

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