Suspect Arrested on Suspicion of Killing Longtime Girlfriend in South LA

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COMPTON (CNS) - A 38-year-old man was charged Thursday with murdering his longtime girlfriend, with whom he shared two children in South Los Angeles.

Richard Lara pleaded not guilty and is due back in a Compton courtroom March 9, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial.

According to police, Lara and his girlfriend left their apartment in the 9800 block of South Broadway Saturday evening and walked to a neighborhood store. When they finished shopping, the victim returned home first, and when Lara returned, "a dispute between the two turned into a physical altercation which led to the victim's murder," according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Lara fled before police arrived, but he was arrested Tuesday by members of the LAPD's Gang and Narcotics Division, police said.

Police did not identify the victim, but relatives identified her to ABC7 as Nicole Santillanes, 38, a mother of four -- two of them with Lara.

Police said Lara and the victim had been together for about 13 years. Police did not reveal a cause of death, but Santillanes' family said she had been beaten and stabbed in front of three of her four children, aged 7, 8 and 13. Her fourth child is 20, according to a GoFundMe page established on behalf of the family.

Relatives told Channel 7 that Santillanes and Lara were in a "toxic" on-and-off relationship peppered with domestic violence.

According to the GoFundMe page, Santillanes worked as a nursing assistant "to provide for her children."

"Our Nicole was a beautiful woman who went above and beyond to give her children a better life," according to the GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $8,000 as of Thursday afternoon.

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