UPDATED: An escort service driver accused of fatally stabbing a Corona man in a fight over a stripper refusing to provide sexual favors must stand trial for second-degree murder, a judge ruled today.
James Michael Apodaca, 32, of Corona, could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted in the November death of 25-year-old Robert Alexander.
Following a daylong preliminary hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Eric Helgesen found there was enough evidence to bind Apodaca over for trial on the murder count, as well as a sentence-enhancing weapon allegation.
Helgesen scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for Jan. 23 and left the defendant's bail set at $1 million. Apodaca is jailed at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
Deputy District Attorney Elan Zekster described the defendant as the "muscle" for an Inland Empire-based escort service that "scammed" customers by suggesting they would receive sex for money, but instead were only offered stripe tease acts that lasted 30 minutes and cost $200.
"He knows how dangerous this is. That's why he arms himself with a knife," Zekster said of Apodaca while arguing that he be held to answer the murder charge. "It's an extremely dangerous situation when you are scamming men for money."
According to testimony, Alexander contacted the escort business about 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 15, seeking female companionship. A woman identified only as "Maria" was sent to the victim's apartment in the 1600 block of Via Pacifica. Maria testified that Apodaca -- who goes by the moniker "Monster" because of his 6-foot, 380-pound frame -- was her driver that morning.
The witness said she told Alexander that there would be "no touching" while she stripped and danced. Around 3 a.m., the dance concluded, and Maria grabbed $200 that Alexander had laid on his dresser, but she said the victim stopped her from leaving the apartment and demanded his money back.
The woman alleged she feared being beaten and tried to return the money, at which point Apodaca knocked on the front door.
According to the prosecution, the defendant was armed with a knife and brandished it, insisting that Alexander let Maria leave with the money.
Alexander got a box cutter and held it behind his back, telling Apodaca to back away from his door, but the defendant reached inside, apparently to grab Maria's arm, according to testimony.
"Monster went into the residence, gesturing with his knife," Zekster said.
He said Alexander swung the box cutter at Apodaca's hand -- slicing him between two fingers -- out of fear. Apodaca lunged at the victim with his knife, stabbing him in the neck and severing his carotid artery, the prosecutor said.
Deputy Public Defender Melissa Hale argued that Apodaca was defending himself after being attacked.
"His hand had been sliced open," she told the court, asking that charges be dismissed. "You had two people who were both armed. Mr. Alexander was being aggressive and clearly unhappy. My client had the right to protect himself."
Helgesen agreed with the prosecution's theory that the defendant and those with whom he worked were taking money under "false pretenses" and therefore setting the stage for a confrontation that turned deadly.
Apodaca surrendered to Corona police investigators Nov. 19 in connection with the death. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. --By Paul Young, City News Service