Los Angeles Times
DNA SEARCH CRACKS COLD CASE
Tracking a family link leads police to a suspect in murders of 2 women dumped on L.A. freeways in 2011.
They were discarded near freeways, dumped in brush among the trash and leaves.
Michelle Lozano had disappeared Easter evening in 2011. Her body was discovered the next day. The 17year-old had been raped and strangled before being stuffed in a plastic container and left near the southbound 5 Freeway in Boyle Heights.
Nine months later, the body of Bree’Anna Guzman, 22, who had been missing for a month, was found along the Riverside Drive on-ramp to the 2 Freeway with bluntforce trauma to the head. Her remains were so badly decomposed that her mother was kept from the scene.
The killings stirred up fear of a serial killer in Lincoln Heights — the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood where the two victims had lived, less than a mile apart. They had been strangers but shared similar traits: Both were longhaired Latinas with soft eyes and wide smiles.
In 2014, authorities announced that the homicides were linked by forensic evidence, and two $50,000 rewards for information were offered to reinvigorate the cases. Three years passed. The families of the victims faded into that desperate population of those waiting for justice.
Last week, they received promising news.
Torrance resident Geovanni Borjas, 32, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of killing Lozano and Guzman, the Los Angeles Police Department said. Booking records listed his occupation as “medical biller.”
Police Chief Charlie Beck
Tuesday that investigators were unable to match DNA from the victims’ cases to state and national DNA databases. They then went through “exhaustive protocols” to request a familial DNA search, a controversial method that looks for partial matches that indicate the relative of a suspect.
About a month ago, a familial match led detectives to a man who had previously been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence assault. He appeared to be a close relative of the suspect in the 2011 killings. After ruling out other family members, investigators eventually began watching the man’s son, Borjas.
When Borjas was seen spitting on the sidewalk, the opportunity for a DNA sample arose. What was collected turned out to be an exact match in Lozano’s and Guzman’s killings, police said.
Beck said he did not believe Borjas’ name had been mentioned in the murders until the DNA hit. Although no other related cases came up in state and national databases, the police chief said he hopes anyone aware of Borjas’ role in other crimes will come forward.
This was the second successful case the agency has had with familial DNA, Beck said. The first was Lonnie Franklin Jr., known as the Grim Sleeper, who detectives believe killed at least 25 women and was sentenced to death last year.
Los Angeles Police Capt. William Hayes told The Times that Borjas was acquainted with Lozano and worked at an Eastside medical clinic that Guzman visited. Public records show that Borjas previously lived a few blocks from Lozano in Lincoln Heights.
In 2014, a judge granted Borjas’ ex-girlfriend a domestic violence restraining order against him. The woman alleged in court documents that the 6-foot-1, 265pound Borjas was physically abusive throughout their 2½-year relationship and that he broke her nose, choked her and pushed her down the stairs. She added that he would follow her and that she lived in fear.
The restraining order prohibits Borjas from coming within 100 yards of the woman, her home or her workplace.
At his arraignment Tuesday, Borjas wore a blue button-down shirt and a neatly trimmed beard. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder, two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping. Because of the circumstances of the crimes, prosecutors said he would be subject to the death penalty if convicted.
Asking the court to set bail, defense attorney Aaron Spolin told the court that Borjas has a full-time job and a fiancee and is a father. However, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Hanasono resaid jected the request, citing the protection of the public.
Spolin would not offer further details about his client, and Borjas’ family members who appeared in court declined to comment.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman, who also prosecuted Franklin, would say only that the case against Borjas was based on DNA.
On Tuesday, family and friends of the victims listened with emotion to statements about the case from the police chief and Mayor Eric Garcetti at LAPD headquarters.
Family members of Lozano declined to comment. The Guzman family, who said they had never seen Borjas before, expressed gratitude to the LAPD for its efforts.
“All I wanted was to find somebody who hurt her,” said the victim’s mother, Darlene Guzman. “And we’re there. We’re there. I’m so happy. I’m overwhelmed with happiness. I mean, we’ll never get her back, but he’s arrested. He’s arrested, and he won’t hurt anybody. I won’t know why — I’ll never know why — but we’re that much closer to closure.”
Last week, she celebrated her daughter’s birthday. Bree’Anna Guzman would have turned 28.
Her mother still remembers her saying she would return soon. That was on Dec. 26, 2011. Guzman said she wasn’t feeling well and was going to head to the drugstore and do a quick meetup with her boyfriend.
A month later, her body was found three miles away.
At the time, there was only speculation that the killing was related to Lozano’s case.
A homeless person had notified police on April 25, 2011, about the body near State Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue.
Detectives concluded that Lozano had been wrapped in plastic bags and then shoved into a container. When the killer dumped the container over a concrete barrier along the freeway, it cracked open, leaving Lozano’s body among the brush.