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Molester Standing Trial 13 Years After 9-Year-Old's Killing

Dean Eric Dunlap is the first in San Bernardino County to face a possible death sentence because of evidence uncovered by state's DNA database.

October 05, 2005|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

More than 13 years after her 9-year-old daughter disappeared, Beatrice Schwartz broke down on the witness stand Tuesday as she testified during the trial of the man accused of kidnapping and killing the girl.

"When she went to school, she never came back," Schwartz said in Spanish, sobbing.

Schwartz was the first witness called in the murder trial of convicted child molester Dean Eric Dunlap, the first person in San Bernardino County to face a possible death sentence because of evidence uncovered by the state's DNA database.

Schwartz's daughter, Sandra Astorga, was abducted as she walked to Roosevelt Elementary School in San Bernardino in January 1992. Her nude body was found near a Little League field just over a month later.

Prosecutor Cheryl Kersey told jurors that the DNA from semen found on Sandra's underwear, T-shirt and shorts matched Dunlap's DNA profile, which had been collected when he was paroled from state prison in 1996.

"The odds of [the DNA] not belonging to Dunlap are 1 in 7 billion, and there are not 7 billion people on this earth," Kersey told the jurors during her opening statements.

Teresa Snodgrass, Dunlap's attorney, told the jury it had to decide if there was "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" that Dunlap committed the crime. DNA from another person also was found at the crime scene, on some men's underwear, she said.

"The issue you have to resolve is, what does all this mean?" Snodgrass told the jurors.

As Dunlap listened, Kersey told jurors details of the grisly crime scene.

Ten days after Sandra's disappearance, some of her clothing and her backpack were discovered in a field near where her body was later found.

Kersey said that on Jan. 30, 1992, a hiker near the Little League Western Regional fields in San Bernardino discovered Sandra's decomposing body under a plaid bedspread and a tarp.

The girl, whose two-block trip from a San Bernardino trailer park to school passed a church, discount store and a crossing guard, had been gagged and suffocated. Forensic experts later established that she had been sexually assaulted, Kersey told jurors.

Dunlap, 48, wasn't tentatively connected to Sandra's slaying until 1999, when the backlogged California Department of Justice DNA database established that a DNA sample he had provided before leaving state prison in 1996 on a sexual assault conviction matched the semen taken from the crime scene. Getting him to trial has taken so long because the county's courts are badly backed up.

When Sandra disappeared, Dunlap was living in Devore between the area where she was abducted and the spot where her body was found, the prosecutor said. Later that year, he was arrested and convicted of misconduct on a child under 14 for grabbing the breasts of his girlfriend's 13-year-old daughter.

Kersey told jurors that the woman who lived with Dunlap at the time of the murder will testify that the plaid bedspread that covered Sandra's body was removed from the home she shared with Dunlap.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.

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