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Defendants in Nava, Rodas murder cases enter not guilty pleas

on September 12, 2011

Both sets of defendants in two of the highest-profile Oakland murder cases of the summer pled not guilty in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday afternoon.

Salvador Valasco, 23, and Hector Garcia, 31, the two men charged with murder in the death of Monica Rodas, both pled not guilty to charges of special circumstances murder, kidnapping and desecrating human remains.

Rodas’ body was found burned on the 5800 block of Ivanhoe in North Oakland in the early morning hours of July 14, when Oakland police and firefighters responded to neighbors’ calls of a fire in the street. Rodas, a resident of Union City, was the 21-year-old mother of a 2-year-old boy. Valasco and Garcia were both arrested July 19 near the Maxwell Park area and the Mills College campus after leading police on separate chases.

“We categorically deny any involvement in this case, and we intend to prove that,” said William Du Bois, Garcia’s lawyer, speaking with reporters after Monday’s hearing. Valasco’s attorney, Alfredo Vea, Jr., declined to speak with reporters, as did family Garcia’s family members, who were present at the hearing.

Minutes later, the two defendants in the shooting death of 3-year-old Carlos Nava also appeared before Judge Carrie Panetta in the same courtroom and also entered not guilty pleas. Nava was shot in East Oakland on August 8. According to police, the boy was with his family outside a grocery store on International Boulevard when he was struck by one of the more than a dozen bullets fired from a car. Authorities believe the intended targets of the shooting were two men standing nearby.

Willie Torrence, 22, whom police believe was the car’s driver, faces one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, while Lawrence Denard, 26, is facing one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a firearm.

Denard was arrested August 11. Torrence was arrested August 15 in Las Vegas, with the help of the Las Vegas Police Department and the FBI, according to the Oakland Police Department.

Both men’s lawyers and family members also declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.

Torrence and Denard are scheduled to appear back in court October 17 for a pretrial hearing.

A pretrial hearing for the Rodas case is scheduled for November 14.

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