The teen from Las Vegas said that during her brief trip last year to the Pomona area, she was in a dream-like state.
She was constantly high on methamphetamine and didn’t sleep for several days. She was held captive, beaten and threatened with death.
The 19-year-old woman, whose name is withheld for fear of retaliation, also witnessed two savage killings allegedly at the hands of Pomona’s 12th Street gang.
In court testimony during a preliminary hearing in May, the woman’s recollection of the killings painted a brutal picture of the inner workings of the gang.
Four men face murder charges for the November 2009 killings of Lorraine Minjarez and David Padilla, who prosecutors say ran afoul of 12th Street gang member Robert Caballero.
Caballero allegedly enlisted a cousin and other gangsters to help carry out the killings. He and three others — Anthony Caballero, Pete Trejo Jr. and Andrew Valenzuela — could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Prosecutors have also charged Robert Caballero with murdering rival Armando Vidana, a member of Pomona’s Cherryville gang, in September 2009.
Trip to Pomona
The woman from Las Vegas said she met Robert Caballero, 33, when he lived nearby at a Las Vegas apartment complex where she lived with her sister.
They dated for about a month before she agreed to travel with him to Southern California to visit her mother, according to the woman’s testimony in Pomona Superior Court.
Two days before leaving for California on Oct. 30, 2009, Caballero introduced her to meth. Though it was her first time on the drug, her usage rapidly increased.
She estimated that once in California she used meth two or three times a day and was constantly high.
Beatings and death threats
During the time the woman spent with Caballero in the Pomona area, she said she was at his side nearly every moment and never slept.
Prosecutors contend that the woman was essentially held captive by Caballero, and was frequently beaten by him. The beatings included what the woman described in her testimony as “full-on blows” to her face, stomach and chest.
“He wouldn’t let me talk to anybody,” she testified. “And he just kept tabs on me wherever I went. Like if I went to the restroom or anywhere, every door had to be open.”
He threatened to kill the woman’s family if she disobeyed his commands. She said in her testimony that she took his threats seriously.
“He said that he would hurt my sister,” she said. “And I believed him because he knew exactly where my sister lived.”
The woman was also unable to make phone calls to family and friends — the day before she and Caballero left Las Vegas, he broke the woman’s cell phone by throwing it off a staircase.
Caballero did not allow the woman to make eye contact with anyone. His reaction when she did was typified by her first meeting with Lorraine Minjarez.
Minjarez, 32, of Covina, and another woman came together in a car to a house in the Pomona area where Caballero and the woman were staying.
The Las Vegas woman, who Caballero had ordered to sit outside and act as a lookout for police, glanced at their car.
“(Caballero) saw me look at them, so he hit me,” the woman testified. “… He thought I was looking at them in a sexual way.”
The evening of Nov. 4, 2009, the woman from Las Vegas and Caballero joined Lorraine Minjarez, David Padilla, and a female friend of Minjarez’s for a night out. The group set out to buy meth, but were unable to find any.
Later the group robbed a prostitute of her handbag, the woman testified. Caballero pressured the woman to join Padilla, 29, in robbing the woman at gunpoint.
During the robbery, Caballero, Minjarez and Minjarez’s friend left, while Padilla and the woman hid in an alley because they feared police were in the area.
They spent the entire night hiding in the alley, and in the morning walked back to the house where Caballero was staying, the woman testified.
Caballero was upset that they were gone all night, and he beat the woman and accused her of performing a sexual act on Padilla, the woman testified.
Caballero also set in motion a sequence that would end in Minjarez’s death.
Potential ‘rat’ strangled
Prosecutors have charged Caballero with murdering rival Cherryville gang member Armando Vidana, 25, in Pomona on Sept. 29, 2009. Minjarez knew of Vidana’s killing, according to prosecutors, and that knowledge led to her death.
The witness from Las Vegas recalled that the morning after robbing the prostitute — the morning of Nov. 5, 2009 — she overheard a conversation about Minjarez between Caballero and Padilla.
“He wasn’t necessarily saying it to me, but (Caballero) was telling David that I guess Lorraine had told him she knew what he did and why he was running, and don’t make her call the cops,” the woman testified.
“And then that’s when David had said that she would rat,” she added.
Caballero began assembling a crew to carry out Minjarez’s killing, according to the witness.
He placed a call on his cell phone, and his cousin, 25-year-old Anthony Caballero, soon arrived at the house where Robert Caballero was staying.
Robert Caballero put a shovel in the trunk of the car, then directed Padilla to retrieve Minjarez, who was inside the home.
Before the group left, Caballero told the woman from Las Vegas that he was going to strangle her, and he slowly described the killing method, the woman said in her testimony.
“(He said) that when he strangles me, that my eyelids will shut, and then my eyes will roll back, and my body will fight for its last breath, and so my body will twitch,” the woman testified.
After Padilla brought Minjarez to Anthony Caballero’s car, the group left and Padilla stayed behind. Inside the car were Anthony and Robert Caballero, Minjarez and the woman from Las Vegas.
They picked up another man, 28-year-old Pete Trejo Jr., then drove on Mt. Baldy Road into the San Gabriel Mountains, the woman testified.
During her testimony, the woman recalled her thoughts as they drove into the mountains.
“Just thinking about everything in my life,” she said. “When I was told I was going to get killed, so many things go through your head at one time, you just — I don’t know how to explain it.”
The woman said she hadn’t slept for several days, and was still high on meth.
“For me, everything was like a dream-like state, just everything was cloudy, and I had so many things running through my head,” she testified.
Eventually the car reached a turn-off point, and Robert Caballero ordered everyone but his cousin to leave the car.
Trejo retrieved the shovel from the trunk, and the group of four — the witness, Minjarez, Trejo and Anthony Caballero — began walking along a trail that led away from the road.
Caballero told Minjarez that they were going to buy meth, but as they continued walking she began to doubt the explanation, the witness said.
“She started to get scared and nervous. … She just kept saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go anymore. I don’t want to go anymore,” the woman from Las Vegas testified.
Robert Caballero said in response that she had no choice but to go with them.
The group continued walking about a quarter mile until Trejo, who was carrying the shovel, said they’d reached a “good spot to dig,” the woman from Las Vegas testified.
“He kept digging in random spots, but I guess there was too many rocks or I don’t know what the case was,” she testified. “But he finally stopped at a spot with big rocks, and he started to dig.”
Caballero ordered Minjarez and the witness to sit on a rock, then began asking them how they feel about death. Minjarez appeared nervous and started crying.
She asked Caballero why he was doing this to her, according to testimony from the woman from Las Vegas.
“He said that, you know too much and the fact that you said that you’ll call the cops,” the woman testified.
The witness testified that Caballero then asked the women how they would like to be killed.
“He gave us options, either to be shot, strangled, or chopped,” the woman testified. The woman told Caballero she’d rather be shot.
Trejo and Caballero took turns digging, and once finished they ordered the women to take off all their clothes and rub dirt on their skin. They later bound the women’s hands with rope.
Trejo led the witness away from the area, leaving Caballero and Minjarez together. The witness said she could no longer see Caballero and Minjarez, but she could hear them.
“At this time the only thing I could hear was just like feet shuffling, like leaves shuffling,” she testified. “And then all I heard a voice kept saying was, ‘Go to sleep. Go to sleep.’”
After a few moments passed, Caballero whistled and Trejo led the witness back to the area where they had been digging. She saw Minjarez laying face down in the freshly dug hole.
Caballero told the Las Vegas that he would pin Minjarez’s murder on her, and he ordered her to slice Minjarez’s throat with a knife and urinate on her body.
The woman complied with Caballero’s demands.
“All I know was that, I guess, all my DNA was supposed to be left on her,” the woman testified.
The day after Minjarez was strangled to death — Nov. 6, 2009 — Padilla was killed by having his head beaten in with a rock. His body was discovered beside the 60 Freeway in Chino.
Robert Caballero and Andrew Valenzuela, 20, of Ontario have been charged with murdering Padilla.
The prosecutor handling the case, Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd, explained the reason he believes Padilla was killed.
“He was killed because he was supposed to make a call to help cover (Minjarez’s) murder, but Caballero felt that David had messed up the cover up,” Dodd said.
The day after Padilla’s killing, two Pomona police officers saw Robert Caballero driving in the area of Indian Hill Boulevard and Holt Avenue.
They ran his car’s license place number through a computer system in their patrol car, and found that the car was owned by Minjarez, who had been reported missing.
The officers tried to pull over the car, but Caballero sped away. A brief chase ensued, and Caballero crashed and tried to flee on foot before being arrested.
The woman from Las Vegas was also in the car.
She told police of Minjarez and Padilla’s killings from the previous days, and also said Caballero had threatened to kill her by dousing her in gasoline and lighting her on fire, according to an affidavit written by Pomona police to obtain a search warrant.
Prosecutors mull death
Robert and Anthony Caballero, Trejo and Valenzuela could face the death penalty for the killings each man was allegedly involved in.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether to seek the death penalty against the men after a preliminary hearing takes place for all four defendants, Dodd said.
So far a preliminary hearing has been held only for Anthony Caballero, who is charged with murdering Minjarez. He is the only one of the four defendants who is not a gang member, Dodd said.
The prosecutor said he expects a preliminary hearing to be held in January or February for the remainder of the defendants.
Dodd said the witness from Las Vegas is being protected from possible retaliation.
“Greenlighted or not, any witness in a gang case can be harmed potentially,” Dodd said. Greenlighted is a term used by gangs that means targeted for execution.
Sept. 29, 2009: Robert Caballero, a 12th Street gang member from Pomona, allegedly shoots and kills 25-year-old Armando Vidana, from the rival Cherryville gang.
Oct. 30: Caballero, who has been living off and on in Las Vegas, leaves the city for a trip to Pomona with a woman, then 18, who he has been dating for about a month. The woman hopes to visit her mother, who lives in Southern California.
Nov. 4: Caballero and the woman from Las Vegas meet up with David Padilla and Lorraine Minjarez at a home in the Pomona area. They go out searching for methamphetamine but fail to find any. The Las Vegas woman and Padilla rob a prostitute and hide in an alley overnight.
Nov. 5: Caballero resolves to kill Minjarez because she threatens to tell police that Caballero is responsible for Vidana’s shooting. He enlists the help of Padilla, his cousin Anthony Caballero and Pete Trejo, Jr. in killing Minjarez, who he allegedly strangles to death in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Nov. 6: Robert Caballero and Andrew Valenzuela allegedly kill Padilla, whose body is discovered beside the 60 Freeway in Chino.
Nov. 7: Robert Caballero is arrested by Pomona police following a brief chase.
May 14, 2010: The woman from Las Vegas testifies in Pomona Superior Court during a preliminary hearing for Anthony Caballero.