Eleven years after a 13-year-old Whittier girl was abducted, molested and shot to death in Los Angeles, four suspected gang members are awaiting trial for the crime, officials announced Wednesday.
Jorge Palacios, 34, Santos Grimaldi, 29, Rogelio Contreras, 34, and Melvin Sandoval, 33, all alleged members of the MS-13 street gang, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of kidnapping and murder, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
They are additionally accused of the special allegations that a gun was involved in the crime and that the murder was committed during a kidnapping, officials said. Sandoval is also charged with committing a lewd act on a child.
Prosecutors will decide at a later date whether to seek the death sentence against the suspects, according to the written statement.
The nude body of their alleged teenage victim, identified by prosecutors only as Jacqueline., was found June 28, 2001, in the Elysian Park area of Los Angeles with two gunshots wounds to the head, officials said.
The case went cold for nearly a decade, authorities said, until the Los Angeles police investigators uncovered new information and presented it to prosecutors, according to the D.A.’s statement.
A grand jury returned an indictment against the four men May 25, she said, however the document remained sealed by a judge until Wednesday’s arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Los Angeles police arrested Contreras May 27, according to county booking records.
Palacios is awaiting trial on a 2004 murder in Los Angeles, officials said. Sandoval is awaiting trial in a separate drug case, while Sandoval and Grimaldi were both convicted and sentenced in a separate kidnapping case in 2002.
Testimony last year in another 2010 Omaha, Nebraska murder case showed that Palacios had been paid more than $300,000 by the FBI for cooperation as an informant on drug cases, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
He was used as an informant even though federal agents were aware of Palacios’ suspected involvement in both the 2004 and 2001 killings, according to the World-Herald.
All four suspects are being held without bail, officials said. According to county booking records, they were due back in court for a pre-trial hearing July 12.