BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A preliminary hearing that was scheduled for Friday in the case of an Inglewood man charged with rape and murder in the death of a 13-year-old girl has been pushed back to December.
Judge Colette M. Humphrey granted a defense motion Thursday to move the preliminary hearing to Dec. 11. A motion filed by the defense to close the courtroom to the public is also scheduled to be heard that day.
Cruz, 24, could face the death penalty if convicted of murder with special circumstances. He has been held without bail since his July 5 arrest.
The motion to bar the media and public from Cruz’s pretrial hearings, filed by Los Angeles-based attorneys Tomas Requejo and Joel G. Garcia, says it’s unlikely Cruz will be given a fair trial given the “prejudicial publicity” his case has received.
But Sherene Tagharobi, a legal fellow with the First Amendment Coalition, which has filed a brief opposing the motion, said the press and the public have a presumptive right of access to court proceedings.
“There is an extremely high bar to close a preliminary hearing in California, and the defense brought a motion to conduct those proceedings in secrecy, and they didn’t make the requisite showing,” Tagharobi said. “We don’t do secret prosecutions in the United States.”
According to court documents, Cruz told investigators he met the girl, Patricia Alatorre, online and persuaded her to send him inappropriate photos. After meeting her in person, he threatened to leak the photos if she didn’t agree to see him a second time, the documents say.
Cruz told police he drove from Inglewood to Bakersfield, where surveillance video captured the teen getting into a white pickup late July 1.
Cruz admitted sexually assaulting Alatorre, strangling her then placing duct tape over her nose and mouth to make sure she was dead, according to the documents. It’s alleged he drove her body back to Inglewood and burned it at a construction site.
He has pleaded not guilty to the dozen felonies filed against him.