Prosecutors cast new light Tuesday on a case that went dark for years when they laid out their claims against a man accused of murdering a Cal State Fullerton student more than 20 years ago.
In their opening statements, they described a sort of Romeo and Juliet romance between Sam Lopez and his then on-again, off-again 20-year-old girlfriend Cathy Torrez.
"What detectives learned after talking to family and friends, not only was there relationhship serious but on the Sunday after date night there's evidence that Sam Lopez asked Cathy to elope with him," Senior District Attorney Matt Murphy said. "He wanted to marry her and he wanted to run away."
On Feb. 12, 1994 Torrez left her work from a Sav-On Drug Store in Placentia never to be seen alive again. Prosecutors showed a hand-written letter they allege she was writing that stops mid-word, at the moment they believe she was killed.
Her body was found a week later in the trunk of her red Toyota Corolla with multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest.
At the time of Torrez's death, Lopez admitted he was jealous of any man whose name she mentioned. Lopez and his cousin Xavier Lopez became the prime suspects in the case.
The cousins had an alibi for each other on the night of the murder, complicating the investigation for years.
Jurors were told Sam Lopez was cooperative in the beginning, but always had an alibi.
Initially, there was no DNA evidence found inside of Torrez's car but as technology evolved over the years officials were allegedly able to tie the suspects to the case.
Forensic testing in 1997 and 2007 linked the cousins to the crime, according to officials.
In 2007, Sam and Xavier, both 35, were arrested and charged with murder.
Sam's brother, Armando Lopez was also arrested and charged with being an accessory to murder.