The stepson of a former Lake Elsinore city councilman found stabbed and slashed to death in his house pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and other charges.
Simon Last Cortez, 40, is accused of killing 77-year-old George Gregory Alongi in February 2013.
Cortez was charged last month with first-degree murder, as well as a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait and a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a deadly weapon -- a knife -- in the commission of a felony.
He was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith Clark at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Clark appointed Cortez a public defender before taking his plea, then scheduled a felony settlement conference in the case for May 16.
The defendant is serving a two-year sentence for a drug-related conviction and is being held at the Southwest Detention Center.
According to the District Attorney's Office, Cortez and Alongi had a turbulent relationship in which arguments were common. Cortez's mother had been the victim of domestic violence during her marriage to Alongi, according to prosecutors.
Investigators' theories on what transpired the day of the murder have not been disclosed, but according to the D.A.'s office, Alongi was stabbed multiple times and had a dozen lacerations to his neck, resulting in damage to his jugular vein and air passage. He also suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
The victim's wife discovered his lifeless body around 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2013, and summoned help.
Cortez was located and interviewed by sheriff's homicide detectives soon after his stepfather's death, but the defendant appeared to have an alibi for where he was that day and claimed he hadn't been to the Dolly Drive house in several months, according to prosecutors.
A roughly yearlong sheriff's investigation led to information that cast doubt on Cortez's claims, the D.A.'s office said.
The special circumstance allegation makes the defendant eligible for the death penalty -- if he's convicted and the D.A. elects to pursue capital punishment.
According to court records, Cortez has a string of prior felony convictions, including for grand theft, burglary and attempted robbery.
Alongi served on the Lake Elsinore City Council from 1992 to 1999. He was forced to vacate his seat by judicial decree after being convicted of misconduct for owning properties that were benefiting from city redevelopment projects on which he had voted.
—City News Service.