DUBLIN (CBS SF) — A 19-year-old man and 25-year-old woman from Modesto were arraigned Wednesday on a murder charge for the fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old Tracy woman in unincorporated Livermore early Monday morning.
Defendants Daniel Gross and Melissa Leonardo, accused in the killing of Lizette Andrea Cuesta, are scheduled to return to court in Alameda County Superior Court in Dublin on Thursday morning to finalize their legal representation and set future court dates.
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A motorist found Cuesta stabbed near Tesla Road, roughly 2 miles west of the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area, at 2:06 a.m. Monday, Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said.
She was airlifted to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley but was pronounced dead later that morning.
Investigators believe Cuesta was dumped from a vehicle and left for dead. She crawled on her stomach for about 100 yards before being found, Kelly said.
He said Cuesta made a “very compelling dying declaration” that led investigators to Gross and Leonardo, who were arrested and booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
The suspects were taken into custody in under 12 hours.
Criminal defense attorney Tony Brass told KPIX 5 that short time frame means more evidence than usual could be available to the prosecution in this case.
“Things like their clothing that may still have blood, weapons could still be available, all these things are fresh before they could be washed or gotten rid of,” said Brass. “It’s a huge advantage.”
Brass said Cuesta’s death declaration is rare evidence that’s taken extremely seriously in court and that the suspects’ young age likely won’t work in their favor.
“I don’t know that age or even a lack of record would be something that would be a factor in a crime this gruesome,” explained Brass.
Dying declarations are exempt from hearsay rule because someone’s last words are legally deemed to be their most trustworthy.
At Wednesday’s arraignment, several of Cuesta’s family members yelled at Gross and Leonardo, who appeared separately in court.
One woman yelled expletives at the female suspect and screamed “You’ll get what you deserve!”
Some of the eight bailiffs who crowded the tense courtroom then removed several of Cuesta’s relatives from court and Judge Gordon Baranco ordered other bailiffs to move Leonardo to a back room momentarily until everything calmed down.
Judge Baranco told people who couldn’t remain quiet to leave.
“I have to have order in the court,” Baranco said.
Afterwards, family members burst into tears and quickly left the courtroom.
Family members of Cuesta and the two defendants declined to talk to reporters after the arraignment.
A court document filed by a sheriff’s detective didn’t disclose a motive for Cuesta’s stabbing death and only said that investigators identified Cuesta as the victim and that probable cause was established that Gross and Leonardo were suspects.
The charging document filed by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office alleges that Gross was the person who fatally stabbed Cuesta.
Alameda County Assistant Public Defender is representing Gross.
Baranco said Leonardo also is eligible to be represented by the Public Defender for financial reasons but that office has declared that it would have a conflict of interest if it represented her so the court will appoint an attorney to represent her.
Both suspects were charged with murder Wednesday, but they did not enter pleas. That is scheduled to happen Thursday morning at 9 a.m.
A GoFundMe page set up at on behalf of Cuesta’s family had raised nearly $10,000 as of late Wednesday afternoon.
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