LOS ANGELES – The key witness in a triple-murder case spent nearly the entire day Wednesday on the witness stand, detailing two killings she saw as well as the frequent beatings and rapes she allegedly suffered at the hand of one of the defendants.
The woman, a former Las Vegas resident whose name is withheld for fear of retaliation, testified during a preliminary hearing for three alleged Pomona gang members charged with murder.
Robert Caballero, 33, is charged with three counts of murder for the following killings: the Sept. 29, 2009, shooting death of Armando Vidana, the strangulation of Lorraine Minjarez on Nov. 5, 2009, and the beating death the following day of David Padilla.
Two other men – 28-year-old Pete Trejo and 20-year-old Andrew Valenzuela – are each charged with one count of murder for allegedly assisting Caballero in one of the killings.
Much of the Las Vegas woman’s testimony in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center bordered on surreal.
She said she was held captive by Caballero and kept awake for several consecutive days around the time Minjarez and Padilla were killed, when the woman was 18.
“I was with him at all times,” she testified. “I wasn’t to be left alone.”
She said she was injected with methamphetamine against her will by Caballero, and was high for several straight days. Caballero was also constantly using meth, the woman said.
Caballero, her one-time boyfriend, allegedly beat her and raped her numerous times. He allegedly forced her to perform a sex act on a man who paid Caballero for the act. Caballero also repeatedly threatened to kill the woman, and described in detail the various methods he might use to kill her, she testified.
But the woman seemed most shaken when describing her forced participation in the slayings of Minjarez and Padilla, who Caballero allegedly killed because he feared they would turn him over to police.
Caballero allegedly forced the woman to slice Minjarez’s throat after he strangled her, and forced her to hit Padilla with a rock, she testified.
Caballero told her that if she ever spoke to authorities about the killings, she’d be equally guilty because of her participation, the woman testified.
The woman is set to retake the witness stand this morning.
The woman and Caballero met in October 2009 at the Las Vegas apartment complex where they both lived, the woman testified.
She later learned Caballero was staying in Nevada to avoid police in Pomona, where he was wanted for killing Vidana, she testified.
They began a dating relationship about a week after meeting, and she agreed to travel with him to Pomona because she wanted to see her mother, who lived in the area. The woman said they arrived in Pomona on about Oct. 30.
During their visit they stayed at the homes of several of Caballero’s friends. Caballero and his friends were constantly using meth, searching for meth, and committing crimes or begging to obtain money to purchase more meth, the woman said.
While Caballero, the woman and others were out searching for a robbery victim the night of Nov. 4, Minjarez, 32, reportedly told Caballero that she knew he shot Vidana, a rival gang member, and might turn him in.
The next day, Caballero traveled into the San Gabriel Mountains with Minjarez, the witness and Trejo.
Once the group reached an isolated spot in the mountains, Caballero strangled Minjarez to death, the woman testified. He debating aloud about whether to kill the witness, but opted not to.
Instead, he forced her to slice Minjarez’s throat with a knife and urinate on her body, reportedly so that her DNA would be left on Minjarez’s body, the woman testified.
“How does it feel to have committed a murder?” Caballero allegedly told the woman after Minjarez’s death.
The next day, Caballero traveled with Valenzuela, Padilla and the witness to an area in Chino where train tracks pass under the 60 Freeway.
The purpose of the trip, as stated by Caballero, was to kill the woman from Las Vegas.
But once the group arrived under the freeway overpass, Caballero ordered Valenzuela to kill Padilla, the woman testified.
Caballero told Padilla he failed to place a phone call to cover for Minjarez’s slaying, and he feared Padilla might be setting him up, the woman testified.
Valenzuela hesitated following Caballero’s order to kill Padilla – both were members of the same gang – but Caballero gave him an ultimatum, the woman testified.
“Robert told him, `It’s either you or him,”‘ the woman testified.
Valenzuela began strangling Padilla, and Caballero ordered the woman to assist by beating Padilla with a rock. Before Padilla, 29, was dead, Caballero and the woman walked away to let Valenzuela complete the slaying, the woman testified.
Caballero was arrested the following day after police found him driving a car belonging to Minjarez, who had been reported missing.
The woman from Las Vegas was in the car with him, and authorities believe Caballero might have planned to kill her next.