Two men accused of killing a woman and leaving her body to burn in Rockridge last year appeared Thursday morning to face formal charges of special circumstances murder, kidnapping, and desecrating human remains.
Salvador Valasco, 23, and Hector Garcia, 32, were arrested last July and charged in the death of Monica Rodas, who according to family and friends present at the court appearance lived in both Union City and Oakland.
Rodas’ burning body was found on the street in the 5800 block of Ivanhoe in North Oakland on July 14, 2011. Neighbors reported a fire at approximately 4:30 a.m. that morning, after which policemen and firemen found her body.
“The pain doesn’t go away, from the heart or the mind,” Maria Alfaro, Rodas’ mother, said in Spanish outside the courtroom Thursday.
Garcia, who is being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, entered the courtroom Thursday and stood in a yellow jumpsuit while Judge Thomas Reardon read his charges. Valasco sat on the other side of the courtroom, and wore a red-and-white striped jumpsuit.
He is also being held without bail, but at Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Prosecutors said Thursday that they would not pursue the death penalty in the case, according to a report in the Oakland Tribune, despite a Superior Court judge ruling last month that this could be tried as a capital crime. William Du Bois, who is representing Garcia, said outside the courtroom that if convicted, the men could face life sentences without parole.
According to published accounts, a witness at a preliminary hearing last month testified that Rodas refused to give the name of a man Valasco and Garcia believed had robbed Garcia previously. The autopsy showed that Rodas died from blunt force trauma to her head and her body was set on fire after she died, according to the accounts.
Several members of Rodas’ friends and family attended the hearing Thursday, sitting solemnly in the second and third row and waiting approximately one and a half hours as Reardon tended to other matters before Valasco and Garcia were arraigned.
Nearly all of the friends and family wore white t-shirts reading “Justicia para Monica Rodas”–justice for Monica Rodas.
Family and friends said Rodas’ son, who is living with his grandmother, will be three years old next month. The family is accepting donations to help pay for the child’s upbringing.
Another hearing for Valasco and Garcia is scheduled for Oct. 19. Du Bois said a trial may begin in February.