When he was arrested a couple blocks from a homicide scene, Juan Velazquez had no weapon on him. The eye witnesses had some differing opinions on the what they had seen.
But the blood found on his jeans, sweatshirt and shoes most definitely matched the DNA of a man who had been beaten to death in Downtown Lodi, a criminalist testified Tuesday.
The evidence presented during a two-day hearing was enough for San Joaquin County Superior Judge Charlotte Orcutt to rule Tuesday that Velazquez should stand trial on a murder charge in the death of Neal Singer.
However, she ruled that there was no evidence that Velazquez was lying in wait for the victim or committed the murder during a robbery, meaning that Velazquez will not face the death penalty. A first-degree murder conviction carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison; in California, that usually amounts to life in prison.
Singer, 35, had just left a bar around the 2 a.m. closing time March 21 when he was beaten in a parking lot at Elm and Sacramento streets.
Blood found on the suspect's clothing later showed that it matched Singer's DNA, according to testimony Tuesday. The odds of anyone else having the same DNA were 1 in 33 quintillion among Caucasians, said Stephen Cavanaugh, a criminalist with the California Department of Justice.
Several witnesses testified during the hearing that they heard yelling and saw a man kicking another man on the ground.
One of those witnesses, Frank Grodecki, lived yards from the scene and awoke because another neighbor in his apartment building was knocking on his door. Grodecki testified that he saw a man kicking a taller man who was lying on the ground, so he went to get his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.
When he came back seconds later, the suspect was walking east. So Grodecki, still on the phone with a dispatcher, began following from a distance. He watched the man head north on Sacramento Street, then east on Locust Street.
The dispatcher broadcast that information, so while some officers went to the crime scene, Officer Eric Shaw headed to Locust Street. There he detained a man later identified as Velazquez.
One eye witness, Deborah Lerma, went to the park with police and identified him as the suspect, and she testified Monday that he was the man she saw swinging a large object over his head toward the victim.
But another witness, William Stiles, testified Tuesday that he thought the man in the park was wearing different clothing. He didn't think it was the same man - though Officer Ken Slater testified that Stiles had said that night that he was "pretty sure" it was the same man.
A motive in the case is still fuzzy. Prosecutors had accused Velazquez of robbery, and noted that Singer's bank card was fraudulently used within an hour after his death. But that card was found south of the bar, though Velazquez and Singer headed north.
Velazquez had no cash on him when police arrested him, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chris Steiner.
Under questioning Tuesday, Detective Leo Ramirez testified that patrons and employees in the bar saw Singer get into a minor dispute with a Hispanic man, but that the man was not Velazquez. Though Velazquez was also in the bar, nobody saw him talk to Singer, the detective testified.
When police found Velazquez shortly after the homicide, they booked him in the city jail and took his clothing. Blood was found all over his blue jeans, as well as the cuffs of his sweatshirt, the tip of one of his brown shoes and both soles, said Elizabeth Schreiber, a senior criminalist with the Department of Justice.
She also examined several pieces of concrete found near the crime scene, and they also contained blood. All items were tied by DNA to Singer, who was beaten and kicked numerous times in the head, according to witnesses and the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.
Except for a cut on the palm of his hand, Velazquez had no wounds - a sign that there was no fight but merely an attack on an unsuspecting man, Deputy District Attorney Ted McGarvey said.
Velazquez will be arraigned Aug. 7, and no trial date has been set. He is being held in the county jail without bail, due to both the murder charge and an immigration hold.