Ka Pasasouk — the a man accused of slaying four people outside a Northridge boarding house on Dec. 2, 2012 — was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for murder at the conclusion of a three-day preliminary hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Superior Court Judge Harvey Giss ruled that there is enough evidence for Pasasouk to stand trial in the murders of Amanda Ghossein, Jennifer Kim, Robert Calabia and Teofilo Navales.
Prosecutors will decide in the coming months whether to seek the death penalty.
The case has been particularly challenging because of the chaotic nature of the crime scene. The murders happened in the early hours of Dec. 2, outside an illegal boarding house where as many as two dozen people lived in makeshift bedrooms. Many witnesses admitted they were high on meth at the time of the shootings.
Investigators have been tight-lipped about details of the case – not unusual for a complex murder case. The case has also drawn attention because Pasasouk was not incarcerated on an unrelated drug charge at the time of the killings, and the district attorney's office has admitted it erred in releasing him from custody under a new state law.
Heidi Valente Navales said she attended the hearing hoping to find out more about why her husband, Teofilo Navales, was killed that night.
"It was emotionally draining," she said. "But nothing much has been said, and we really just want to know what happened."
Prosecutors have not yet put forth a clear motive for the defendant, though they touched on some possibilities. Pasasouk's ex-girlfriend, Cristina Neal, testified that the two had fought in the hours before the murders. The couple lived together in a room in the boarding house where the murders took place. Neal said Pasasouk drank vodka and smoked meth all day, before their argument turned violent.
When the case reaches trial, prosecutors may explain the murders as the result of a drug-and-emotion-fueled rage.
While questioning witnesses on the stand, Deputy D.A. Dan Akemon also explored the idea that robbery might have been a motive in the killings.
Judge Giss, who oversaw the preliminary hearing, grew frustrated with some witnesses, whom he encouraged to give clear, straight answers. After the hearing concluded, he thanked audience members for their "civil attitude" towards the emotional proceedings.
Relatives of the victims showed up in force, particularly for the last day of the hearing. Through most of it, the audience sat quietly.
Things changed when Akemon read the coroner's report, which described how bullets entered each victim from behind their heads. Family members of each victim sobbed audibly at the description of their loved ones' final moments.
Whether or not Pasasouk is found guilty of the crimes, questions persist about why he wasn't behind bars at the time of the murders.
Last September, Pasasouk went to court on a minor drug charge. Instead of jail, he agreed to probation under Proposition 36, a voter initiative passed in 2000 that allows drug offenders to enter rehab in lieu of jail time.
Pasasouk, however, was not eligible for that lenient sentence because he had a violent criminal history. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has taken responsibility for that mistake.
Pasasouk was already under the supervision of the L.A. County Probation Department in 2012 and had been recommended for revocation several times after failing to appear for meetings. The department said it issued a warrant for his arrest, but he was never taken into custody.
In addition to Pasasouk, two women were charged with crimes surrounding the murders.
Donna Rabulan, who drove Pasasouk and others to Las Vegas on Dec. 3, remains in jail after pleading guilty to being an accessory to murder.
Maria Pachejo, who admitted to taking out part of a surveillance system from the boarding house, was sentenced to 6 months in jail for destroying evidence and has already served her time.
A fourth person, Howard Alcantara, has not been charged in connection with the slayings, but remains in custody on an unrelated burglary charge.
Pasasouk is due in court Aug. 14 to enter a plea on the murder charges.