A man accused of murdering a teenage mother in front of her 2-year-old daughter more than 15 years ago appeared in a San Mateo County courtroom Thursday.
Jose Luis Arreola Cruz, 39, is believed to be the murderer of his former girlfriend, 19-year-old Gabriella Tello, who was found stabbed to death inside her East Palo Alto home at 2356 Ralmar Ave. on the evening of May 21, 1995, according to the San Mateo County district attorney's office.
At a preliminary hearing Thursday, Cruz entered the courtroom shackled and staring at the ground. He used a Spanish interpreter to follow the proceedings.
Sheriff's Deputy Saul Lopez testified that Cruz and Tello had lived together and had a daughter, 2-year-old Stephanie, who was at home when her mother was killed. Prior to her murder, Tello broke up with Cruz and moved in with a new boyfriend, Lopez said.
According to Lopez's testimony, Cruz showed up uninvited to a first communion party in Menlo Park for Tello's two younger sisters. Tello left the party after she was seen arguing with Cruz, and the defendant, who witnesses said was drunk, allegedly followed her.
Tello's body was discovered on the living room floor of her house later that evening by her sister Monica, Lopez said. She had been stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife. Stephanie, who was found by police shut in one of the bedrooms, allegedly told officers that she saw her dad hitting her mom, Lopez said. A beer bottle with Cruz's fingerprints on it was found in the victim's home, Lopez said.
Cruz disappeared shortly after the murder, and was believed to have fled to Mexico. He was arrested in March by federal agents as he was trying to reenter the U.S. from Mexico near Laredo, Texas, according to the district attorney's office. He has denied ever being in the victim's house, Lopez said.
Judge Barbara Mallach Thursday ruled that there is enough evidence for Cruz to be tried for murder. He will reappear in court to be arraigned on Nov. 1.