Otay Mesa

Death Sentence Upheld for Pipefitter Who Murdered Otay Mesa 9-Year-Old in 1991

Manuel Bracamontes, now 58, was convicted in September 2005 for Laura Arroyo's June 1991 slaying

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The California Supreme Court Monday upheld a pipefitter's conviction and death sentence for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a 9-year-old girl from Otay Mesa, whose body was discovered in Chula Vista more than three decades ago.

Manuel Bracamontes, now 58, was convicted in September 2005 for Laura Arroyo's June 1991 slaying.

The girl -- who was found wearing pink pajamas and underwear -- had been stabbed at least 10 times in an attack consistent with a pickaxe being used, and hemorrhaging indicated she had been strangled, according to the ruling by the state's highest court.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of committing the murder while engaged in kidnapping, lewd act on a child under 14 and oral copulation.

The same panel recommended the death penalty for Bracamontes, who was arrested 12 years after the murder when DNA evidence was re-tested in light of technological advances. 

In its ruling, the California Supreme Court noted that the evidence involving Arroyo's killing was re-examined in 2003 after the San Diego County District Attorney's Office established a ''cold case unit'' and that new slides revealed the presence of sperm in swabs from the girl's mouth, neck and fingernails and that a DNA profile was developed and found to match DNA taken from Bracamontes' hair sample.

The DNA profile from biological matter found on the girl's pajamas also matched the defendant's reference sample, with the likelihood of a random match being one in 30 quadrillion, Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the panel.

The girl disappeared the evening of June 19, 1991, and was found dead about 6:30 a.m. June 20, 1991, in the parking lot of an industrial complex in Chula Vista about 3 1/2 miles from her home, according to the ruling.

Bracamontes was arrested in 2003 following a high-speed freeway chase in which he lost control of his car and crashed, the panel noted.

The justices rejected the defense's contention that the delay in the case being filed until 2003 was unjustified and denied him due process and prevented adequate defense investigation into potential third-party culpability evidence, along with a claim that the trial court improperly allowed victim impact testimony from the girl's third-grade teacher during the trial's penalty phase.

The panel agreed that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering the use of leg chain restraints on Bracamontes during the trial, but found that the defendant had failed to establish that it prejudiced his case.

In sentencing the defendant to death in December 2005, Superior Court Judge John Thompson said, ''Clearly, the weight of the evidence supports the jury's recommendation.''

Bracamontes, who was allowed to address the court before the judge pronounced sentence, remained unrepentant at his sentencing.

''I didn't kill that girl,'' Bracamontes said. ''You guys resolved nothing.''

The defendant's wife and sister also maintained that he was innocent. But Deputy District Attorney Garland Peed said Bracamontes ''deserves nothing less than the ultimate punishment for what he did to that little girl.''

The victim's mother, also named Laura Arroyo, said it was extremely difficult to relive the events of 1991 all over again and to have to face ''the assassin of my little girl'' in court.

''I believe that the jury did make a good decision,'' the mother said of the death recommendation.

She said her daughter didn't deserve to die in ''such a cruel manner'' and urged the judge to give Bracamontes the death penalty for ''having destroyed our lives forever.''

Five witnesses testified they saw Bracamontes at the girl's condominium complex the night she disappeared. Until a week before her death, he had lived in a nearby unit with his then-girlfriend, whom he married while awaiting trial, and their children.

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