Four National City murder suspects have pleaded not guilty to a special circumstance allegation that allege they killed a young woman by torture.
Alexandria Nicole Smith, 30, of San Diego, disappeared after she was last seen going to a party in National City on Oct. 2, 2017. Her body was found a week later and she died of asphyxiation.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Laura Halgren told them it is a potential death penalty case. A decision as to whether the District Attorney’s office will seek the death penalty or a life term in prison without parole if they are convicted has not been made.
Pablo Victor Valadez, 36, Jonnie Alexander Isaguirre, 23, Crystal Lopez Melendez, 34, and Amber Star Suarez, 38, were also previously charged with a special circumstance of murder during a robbery. Suarez is also known as Amber Leal.
A 5th co-defendant, Maria Yvette Pereira, 27, pleaded guilty to robbing Smith and the murder charge was dismissed against her. Halgren said in court that Smith’s car keys, phone, purse, jacket, and her car were taken from her in the robbery.
Halgren said Pereira would be sentenced to prison but the length of the term would be determined later. Pereira’s next hearing was set for June 24, but she may not be sentenced that day. She remains in jail without bail.
Smith’s cell phone was found in a 7-Eleven dumpster in Vista about a week after she disappeared. The screen was cracked and the cell phone had no power. The person who found it was looking for recyclables and called Smith’s mother after recharging it.
The preliminary hearing for the four others was set for June 17 and the judge said it would last between 5-10 days. The prelim was set so far in advance because one defense attorney is pregnant and will be out on maternity leave.
The facts of the case have not been presented in court yet. Valdez, Isaguirre, Melendez, and Suarez remain in jail on $2 million bail.