Three Men Convicted of 13-Year-Old Girl's Killing

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Three men were convicted today for the killing of a 13-year-old Whittier girl, who was taken to a remote area of Elysian Park where she was raped and shot more than two decades ago.

Santos Grimaldi, 39, and Melvin Sandoval, 42, were found guilty of first-degree murder, with the special circumstance allegations of murder during the commission of a rape and a lewd act on a child found to be true, according to Greg Risling with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Co-defendant Rogelio Contreras, 44, was found guilty of second-degree murder, according to Risling.

Gun and gang allegations were found true against all three defendants, Risling said.

A jury deadlocked in March 2018 on the murder charge against the three men, but a separate jury convicted a fourth man, Jorge Palacios, in March 2018 of first-degree murder and kidnapping to commit another crime involving the June 2001 killing of Jacqueline Piazza.

Jurors in Palacios' case also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder during a kidnapping, murder during a rape or attempted rape and murder during the commission or attempted commission of a lewd act on a child, along with gang and gun allegations.

Just before being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in June 2019, Palacios told the teen's parents, ``I feel really terrible about what happened. Trust me, I wasn't part of what happened ... I know justice will be served.''

In his opening statement to jurors in the first trial of Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras, Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai said Palacios told the other gang members that they had to get rid of the teenage runaway after he and his girlfriend beat the girl, whom he called an enemy.

The prosecutor told jurors that Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras took the crying girl -- who was eventually forced to ride in the trunk of the car -- to a wilderness area in Elysian Park, where her body was found the next morning by a hiker walking with his dog.

``This crime against Jacqueline was a violent murder where she was shot twice in the head and this is how she was left,'' Mathai said, showing jurors a photo of the victim wearing only a pair of socks and shoes.   

The prosecutor said the teenager had been raped, with DNA testing showing that a DNA sample consistent with Sandoval was found on a vaginal swab taken from the victim and that a DNA sample consistent with Grimaldi was collected from her breast.

Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras -- who are due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for sentencing May 13 -- were indicted along with Palacios in May 2012 in the girl's killing.

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