BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The media and the public should be excluded from all pretrial hearings in the case of an Inglewood man charged with sexually assaulting and killing a 13-year-old Bakersfield girl, a motion filed by the man’s attorneys argues.
The motion also asks the court to bar attorneys, witnesses and law enforcement from commenting on the case of Armando Cruz, who could face the death penalty if convicted of murder with special circumstances. He has been held without bail since his arrest July 5.
“The statements released by law enforcement officials to the media have caused national, regional, and local media outlets to breathlessly report on horrific details of the instant case,” says the motion filed by Los Angeles-area attorneys Tomas Requejo and Joel G. Garcia. “Because of the information provided to the press, it is highly unlikely that Mr. Cruz will receive a fair trial given the prejudicial publicity generated so early in the case.
“Accordingly, this court should close the preliminary hearing, all pretrial hearings, and issue a protective order,” the motion says.
Additionally, the motion argues the media and public should be barred from the courtroom to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. It says 20 to 40 people attended Cruz’s arraignment and did not follow social distancing measures in the “small” courtroom.
A hearing to address the motion, among other matters, is scheduled for Sept. 2.
Cruz told investigators he met the girl, Patricia Alatorre, online and persuaded her to twice meet him to engage in sex acts. On the second occasion, according to court documents, he threatened to leak inappropriate photos of her if she didn’t agree to see him. He told police he drove from Inglewood to Bakersfield, where surveillance video captured the teen getting into a white pickup late July 1.
Alatorre struggled against him as he sexually assaulted her, according to Cruz’s statement in the documents, and he strangled her then placed duct tape he brought with him over her nose and mouth to make sure she was dead. Cruz told detectives he threw Alatorre’s cellphone in bushes at southbound Highway 99’s interchange with Herring Road as he drove back to Los Angeles.
Police said in the documents a cellphone was found where Cruz said it would be.
Upon arriving in L.A., Cruz wrapped Alatorre’s body in a red sleeping bag, placed it behind a construction vehicle in the area of Aviation Boulevard and West 118th Street in Inglewood and set it on fire, the documents said. The body of an unidentified female was found there the night of July 3, and the details from the crime scene were “extremely similar” to what Cruz told detectives, according to the documents.
Advised of the investigation in Bakersfield, Los Angeles police tracked Cruz to a studio apartment where they found a white pickup registered in his name and matching the description of the suspect vehicle. Officers took Cruz in for questioning.
After admitting to the killing, the documents said, Cruz was arrested and transported to Bakersfield, where has pleaded not guilty to a dozen felonies. In addition to the surveillance video and Cruz’s statement, investigators found conversations on Alatorre’s Instagram account between her and a man later identified as Cruz.