There's finally been a breakthrough in cases of two young women whose bodies were found along Los Angeles freeways. A suspect's spit on a sidewalk contained DNA that allegedly links him to the homicides, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.
Beck left open the possibility that suspect Geovanni Borjas, 32, could have allegedly committed sex crimes on other occasions. “We do not believe there to be anymore of the same type of victims,” Beck said. “But there may very well be victims of sexual assault.”
The separate 2011 murders of 22-year-old Bree'Anna Guzman of Lincoln Heights and 17-year-old Michelle Lozano of Boyle Heights set the Eastside and Northeast L.A. areas on edge, and rumors circulated of random kidnappings of young women in the communities — rumors that didn't turn out to be true. Other homicides of women in the areas were not ultimately connected to their cases, but on April 7, 2014, L.A. Weekly reported that authorities believed Guzman and Lozano might have been felled by the same suspect.
On Tuesday, Borjas was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping in connection with the Guzman and Lozano killings, according to the District Attorney's Office. “Special circumstance” allegations of more than one murder and homicide during a rape or kidnapping could make him eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors said.
At the news conference with Beck, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Nothing can bring back these angels.”
Beck said that during the holidays each year since their passing, he thought of the young women.
In April 2011, the nude body of 17-year-old Michelle Lozano of Boyle Heights was found next to the 5 freeway near Cesar Chavez Avenue. Police said her body was in a container that appeared to have been dumped from a moving vehicle. Although there were reports at the time she had been strangled, Beck told reporters, “I'm not going to comment on the cause of death.”
Guzman was reported missing the day after Christmas 2011. Her body was found dumped next to the Glendale Freeway in Silver Lake in January 2012. Police said she had left home to go to a nearby drugstore for medicine and was never seen again.
The chief said detectives with the Robbery-Homicide Division tracked down Borjas after finding that his father's DNA was similar to that found on the victims. The father had been arrested in the past. Borjas' brushes with the law were more minor, the chief indicated, and he was never compelled to give up a DNA sample. The “familial” DNA search, however, led the investigators to focus on the suspect, who had worked for a medical supply company on the Eastside, Beck said. The chief suggested the suspect might have known the victims through that job, but he wouldn't elaborate. “We believe there may have been a connection there,” he said.
He also wouldn't say if detectives believe the victims were “kidnapped” or “lured.” But the DA's case makes clear that prosecutors believe kidnapping was involved in at least one of the alleged murders.
Detectives shadowed Borjas and, recently, scooped up evidence after he spit on a sidewalk, the chief said. DNA from that sample matched that found on the victims, he said, and Borjas was arrested at his home in Torrance Thursday. Beck said Borjas lived with his family there.
The murders inspired Eastside City Councilman Gil Cedillo to establish a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of a suspect. This week, the councilman praised LAPD for staying vigilant and nabbing a suspect nearly six years later.
“We'd like to thank the LAPD for their ongoing investigation into the deaths of Michelle Lozano and Bree'Anna Guzman,” he said via email. “It was important for us to continue offering a reward motion in hopes that these deaths would be solved one day. The recent suspect arrest gives us a glimmer of hope that justice may be served for the families and communities still grieving the loss of these two young girls.”