A Northern California man has pleaded not guilty to charges he stabbed a neighbor to death in Sylmar. The victim’s body was later found in a burning car at a cul-de-sac along the 210 Freeway.
Carlo Giuliano Cresci, 23, of Richmond, was arraigned in the San Fernando Courthouse on Monday, Sept. 8. He is charged with one count of willful, deliberate and premeditated murder and one count of arson causing great bodily injury, with a knife-use allegation. He returns to court on Oct. 8, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to order him to stand trial.
Cresci was taken into custody in the East Bay city of Richmond, and brought back to Los Angeles. He is being held in lieu of $1 million.
Cresci is accused of killing 26-year-old Jose Martinez, whose body was found on May 24, at about 7:30 p.m., in a burning car on a dead-end section of Harding Street near Foothill Boulevard.
Detectives said they got a break in the case when they found evidence that was not damaged by the fire, according Los Angeles police Lt. Paul Vernon.
“This case could have been a real ‘whodunit,’ but for a little luck and some really good detective work,” said Vernon, commanding officer of the LAPD Mission Detective Division. “The luck was an intact restaurant receipt that survived the car fire.”
The receipt, Vernon said, led detectives to a restaurant where security video showed Martinez with Cresci and Cresci’s grandparents, who live in Sylmar.
“The grandparents were the local connection that brought Martinez and Cresci all the way from Richmond, where both men lived separately, across the street from each other,” Vernon said.
A forensic search of Martinez’ cell phone, which also survived the fire, identified Cresci as one of the victim’s contacts, the lieutenant said.
“It was straightforward, but tedious police work, narrowing down the contacts,” Vernon explained. “The real tip off came when Cresci feigned knowing Martinez, while so many other acquaintances put them together.”
Detectives put the case together, then got three search warrants for locations in the Richmond area. Six detectives, supported by several others from the LAPD Major Crimes Division, traveled to Richmond and surprised Cresci when he showed up for his county work-release program, part of his
probation from a prior conviction.
Local law enforcement assisted the LAPD detectives with the warrants. Detectives flew Cresci back to Los Angeles on an LAPD plane and booked him for the murder.
Cresci faces up to life in prison if convicted, according to the District Attorney’s Office.