Man convicted of strangling acquaintance in Lake Forest, then leaving her body in Santa Ana – Orange County Register

SANTA ANA — A 62-year-old man was convicted Wednesday of strangling a former co-worker during an argument in the victim’s Lake Forest garage and then leaving her body in a car in Santa Ana before fleeing to Mexico.

Jose Valdez Jimenez, 62, of Rancho Santa Margarita, was convicted of second-degree murder and faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on July 12.

Jimenez killed 57-year-old Natalia Gamino Jaimes on Oct. 22, 2020. Senior Deputy District Attorney Anna McIntire told the jury that the two met while working as janitors and stayed in touch after they got jobs elsewhere.

Jimenez would “often show up at her house unannounced,” McIntire said in her opening statement.

The two got into a conflict when the victim’s daughter, Alejandra Gamino, went to pick up her son at school but found out the defendant had already done so, McIntire said.

Jaimes told Jimenez to stop picking up the boy at school and called him a “philanderer” in a text message, McIntire said.

Jimenez repeatedly called her on the phone, but she ignored most of the calls, McIntire said. The defendant then came to the victim’s townhome and said it was a “misunderstanding,” the prosecutor said. “The last (Gamino) saw her mom alive was in the garage with the defendant.”

The victim’s daughter went to the gym and when she returned home, she saw the garage door open, which was unusual, McIntire said. Gamino assumed her mother went to see her boyfriend, Gerson Castillo, in Santa Ana.

The next morning, when her mother had not returned home and hadn’t been in touch, she grew “nervous” and called Jimenez, who said the last he saw of Jaimes was when she drove out of the garage away from him, McIntire said.

“This would prove to be a lie,” the prosecutor said. “And he didn’t seem particularly concerned she was missing.”

Gamino kept calling her mother’s cell phone until a man finally answered and said he had just found the phone at 927 N. Pine Ave. in Santa Ana, which is where Castillo used to live, McIntire said.

Castillo, however, was quickly eliminated as a suspect, she said.

Meanwhile, Jimenez “abruptly vacated” the room he was renting in Rancho Santa Margarita and asked his friend, Aida Verde Morales, to drive him to the Mexican border on Oct. 24, 2020, telling her he needed to respond to a family emergency, McIntire said.

Gamino hired a private investigator, who tracked down where the victim’s car was parked in Santa Ana, McIntire said. While she was in the neighborhood putting up “missing” posters, she spotted her mother’s Honda Civic and called police, who found the victim’s body inside, set back in a reclined seat so it was not easily seen from the street. Surveillance video showed a man covering his face with his shirt and parking the car on Russell Street, McIntire said.

Gamino did not recognize the suspect in the black-and-white footage, but a video in color was more recognizable, McIntire said. She recognized that the suspect was wearing the same clothes Jimenez was wearing when she saw him in their garage and noticed he had the same gait, the prosecutor said.

When detectives finally spoke to Jimenez, he repeated that the last time he saw the victim, she was driving away, McIntire said. When the detective said they had surveillance video indicating otherwise, he said he needed to settle some things in Mexico before returning to the U.S., the prosecutor said.

Later, he told the detective, who kept in touch regularly, that the victim “made him feel useless,” McIntire said, telling jurors that in another conversation, he said she “assaulted him, making him feel ashamed and mad.”

Jimenez said he choked her for 10 minutes in the garage in Lake Forest, McIntire said. He offered to surrender at the border and the detective went to the Point of Entry and picked him up, the prosecutor said.

Evidence of broken nails, blood on the victim’s hand and clumps of her hair in the car show Jaimes fought for her life, McIntire said. She suffered fractured cartilage in her neck.

The defendant’s attorney, June Woo Chung of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, acknowledged that his client killed the victim and left her body in the car in Santa Ana before fleeing the country. But the killing was not planned, Chung said.

Jaimes “took advantage of the kindness and generosity” of the defendant, and she also exploited his romantic feelings for her, Chung said.

Because the victim had bad credit, the defendant would open up lines of credit for her with a promise she would pay him back, Chung said. Jimenez also leased the car for her.

Jimenez went to talk to Jaimes on Oct. 22, 2020, to discuss her keeping up with payments on the car, Chung said. She was also just paying the minimum on a Macy’s charge account while the interest kept swelling, he said.

At one point, she “tells him the truth of the relationship,” the defense attorney said.

She said she was “financially using him the whole time” for 2 1/2 years, Chung said. “She said, `Are you an imbecile? Are you an idiot? I was using you.”

Jimenez told police that in that moment, “his mind went blank. … He said, `I left my body,”‘ Chung said.

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