OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Two suspected gang members pleaded not guilty Monday to special circumstances murder charges for allegedly brutally beating a 21-year-old Union City woman to death two months ago and then dumping her body in an upscale Oakland neighborhood and setting it on fire.

Authorities have declined to disclose the suspected motive for the murder of Monica Rodas, who was the mother of a 2-year-old boy, but said suspects Salvador Valasco, 22, and Hector Garcia, 31, apparently were upset with her about something and wanted to send a message to the community not to mess with them.

Rodas’ body was found around 4:40 a.m. on July 14 in the 5800 block of Ivanhoe Road in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, near a state Highway 24 off-ramp.

Valasco and Garcia are both charged with committing a murder during the course of a kidnapping, desecrating human remains and evading police officers.

Garcia is also charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and of having six prior felony convictions, an allegation that could add to his prison sentence if he is convicted.

His prior convictions include evading an officer, possession of a firearm by a felon, receiving stolen property, car theft and possession of a controlled substance.

The special circumstances allegations mean that Valasco and Garcia could face the death penalty if they are convicted.

But prosecutors won’t make a decision on seeking the death penalty until after their preliminary hearing, which will determine if there’s enough evidence to have them stand trial. That hearing won’t take place until late this year or early next year.

Valasco and Garcia were arrested by Oakland police on July 19 after a brief foot chase.

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Oakland police Sgts. Steve Nowak and Sean Fleming, Garcia denied any knowledge of the crime but Valasco admitted his involvement and said he bound Rodas’ hands, gagged her mouth and put a sweater over her.

Valasco said Garcia threatened to burn Rodas with a blowtorch and slapped her, according to the statement.

Witnesses said Garcia kicked Rodas while she was bound and gagged, the court document said.

Valasco and Garcia then walked Rodas to a car, put her in the trunk and drove her to another location, where she was killed, the police investigators said.

The two men next drove Rodas’ body to Ivanhoe Road, where they dumped and burned it, according to the statement.

Garcia’s attorney, William DuBois, said after Monday’s brief hearing that Garcia “was not involved” in Rodas’ death and “we intend to prove it.”

DuBois said the prosecution’s case against Garcia is weak because it is based on witnesses “who are unreliable because they are chronic users of crystal methamphetamine.”

Valasco and Garcia are scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on Nov. 14 for a pretrial hearing.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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