Two college students pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges in the slaying of a 21-year-old UCLA student whose body was found after a fire at her Westwood apartment last week.
Alberto Hinojosa Medina and Eric Marquez, both 22, face charges of murder and burglary in the fatal stabbing of Andrea DelVesco. Medina is also accused of arson.
In the scenario described by deputy district attorney Victor Avila, Medina killed DelVesco while Marquez waited outside.
Medina is charged with burglarizing an apartment in the 10900 block of Roebling Street on Sept. 21 and then entering a second nearby apartment where he allegedly fatally stabbed Del Vesco and set her room on fire before fleeing, prosecutors said. Firefighters discovered Del Vesco's body.
He is charged with one count of capital murder with the special circumstance of murder during a robbery and a special allegation that he personally used a knife; one count of arson of a dwelling; and two counts of first-degree burglary.
"It's really difficult to believe someone like Mr. Medina, who's respected by his friends and his family and by the community, could commit such such a horrible, vicious offense," said his attorney, Dimitry Gorin, after the arraignment.
"Even if he were an aider and abettor, he's not equally culpable because the DA did not allege special circumstances," said Marquez’s attorney Steve Cron.
Cron described his client as an exemplary pre-med student who had never been in trouble. Family and friends stood up in court to attest to his good character.
Del Vesco was a fourth-year UCLA student from Austin, Texas, and a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. She studied psychology and Spanish, and was facing drug-related charges at the time of her death. Authorities have not said if her death was linked to the circumstances of the drug case.
The special circumstance raises the possibility Medina could face the death penalty. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek death, or life without possibility of parole.
The suspects were linked to Del Vesco's death through forensic evidence collected at the scene as well as witness statements, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
"There's a considerable amount of forensic evidence," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said.
Medina was arrested Saturday in Fresno, and Marquez was taken into custody Sunday near his apartment in Westwood, according to police.
According to UCLA, Marquez is a fifth-year undergraduate student at the university, majoring in biology. Medina has been attending Cal State Fresno. They have been friends since high school, prosecutor Victor Avila told the court.
Medina's father said, "He told me that he didn't do it."
Marquez's mother said Eric Marquez is a hardworking student who wants to be a doctor.
"He's a perfect son," she said in Spanish, with her younger son translating, adding that she doesn't believe the allegations.
Medina is being held in jail without bail. Bail for Marquez was kept at $1.1 million.
During the bail hearing, Avila laid out aspects of the prosecution's case that had not previously been made public.
Investigators found a witness who saw a man who appeared to be Medina leaving his red car and head toward the DelVesco apartment, Avila said.
He also told the court that investigators obtained security camera video that shows the two defendants arriving at the Westwood apartment house of Marquez the morning of Del Vesco's death.
A man who appears to be Medina was splattered with blood which he tried to cover with an item of clothing that investigators identified as belonging to Del Vesco, Avila said.
During searches in Fresno, investigators recovered property stolen from Del Vesco and also from another nearby Westwood apartment during a burglary earlier that Monday morning, Avila said.
Both defendants are due back in court Oct. 22.
City News Services contributed to this report.