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Life or death fate Neal Putnam | Sat, May 31 2014 12:00 PM

Special circumstance allegations have been filed against a man charged with killing Chula Vista businessman Sergio Morales in 1999 and he could either face the death penalty or a life term in prison without parole if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

Joe Mora, 34, of Lancaster,  was arraigned on the special circumstance charges on May 27, said Deputy District Andrea Freshwater. She said no decision on which penalty to seek has been made.

“We just added (the charges),” said Freshwater on Tuesday.

The allegations say Mora shot and killed Morales, 54, during a robbery and burglary at his home in Chula Vista on Nov. 28, 1999. Morales was the owner of S&C Furniture on Main Street and he also owned a meat business in Chula Vista.

A black beanie that was left on Morales’s porch was tested for DNA evidence which was later traced to Mora. The beanie was earlier described as a knit cap, but witnesses said it was actually a beanie which Mora often wore.
Chula Vista Police officers, the victim’s widow, lab experts and someone who knew Mora testified during the two-day preliminary hearing that ended May 6. Chula Vista Superior Court Judge Francis Devaney ordered Mora to stand trial.
Morales’s wife called police at 6:50 p.m. saying a man had burst into their home, but her husband pushed him outside on the porch. Morales was shot in the head and torso. Robbery was the apparent motive, but the killer left without taking anything.

A woman had knocked on the door some minutes earlier saying she was a neighbor who had lost her cat and the feline was in the Morales’s back yard. The couple did not recognize the woman and did not let her inside. They searched the back yard but couldn’t find a cat.

Morales’s widow testified her husband told her three people tried to get inside their home a week earlier, but he fought them off.

A DNA profile was developed from the beanie and it matched DNA from Mora’s sample that was taken when he was arrested for domestic violence in 2009. He went to prison and was arrested for murder on Sept. 27, 2013, after he was paroled.

He remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility on $1 million bail.

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