By Daphne Khalida Kilea 06/21/2012
Jose Escobar-Monterrozo of Simi Valley
Following five delays of his arraignment, Jose Escobar-Monterrozo, 36, returned to court on June 20, which comes after this reporter’s deadline. He is charged with murder with an associated special allegation of the use of a deadly weapon to commit the crime.
On Jan. 25, the police responded to a domestic disturbance call that later resulted in the arrest of Escobar-Monterrozo. Claudia Menjivar, 33, the mother of his 5-year-old child, was found dead in the home they shared in Simi Valley, with Escobar-Monterrozo unaccounted for. Menjivar’s 15-year-old daughter from a previous relationship had arrived home from school to find her mother dead. It was determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma. Shortly after the discovery, the police made contact with Escobar-Monterrozo and he returned to the crime scene, where he was placed under arrest. The motive for the murder has not yet been released.
Escobar-Monterrozo made his first court appearance on Jan. 26, where his bail was revoked due to his immigration status; he is currently facing felony deportation proceedings. His arraignments thereafter has been postponed.
Gina Drake of Ventura
Almost three years later, on May 25, Gina Drake, 45, was arrested for the murder of her aunt Wendy Di Rodio. Di Rodio’s sister is Drake’s mother. Drake is charged with murder, with the special allegation of using a knife to commit the crime.
On June 3, 2009, Wendy Di Rodio, 61, was found by her parents, dead in her locked upstairs bedroom in their Ventura Keys home. She had multiple stab wounds. Di Rodio was a licensed therapist and an author and had moved in with her parents to help take care of her father. No weapon was recovered by the police at that time nor were any suspects arrested prior to Drake. According to police, her arrest is a result of a three year investigation; no motives have been offered for Drake’s alleged killing of her aunt.
Drake was married to Ventura police officer Aaron Drake, who filed for divorce shortly after learning she was under investigation for the Di Rodio murder. She has also been hospitalized twice in the course of her 12-year marriage to Aaron, both times due to suicide-related incidents, court documents state. Aaron, who was placed on paid administrative leave while being questioned about his wife’s involvement in the murder, has since been cleared by the police department after and is back to full duty. Reports reveal that he initially attempted to question Gina Drake regarding the murder but she cited her Fifth Amendment right, which protects her from incriminating herself by answering any questions.
The bail amount is contested by her attorneys, who argued at the June 4 bail review that it should be $510,000. Another bail review will be scheduled at a later date. Her bail currently remains at $1 million and she faces a maximum penalty of 26 years to life in prison.
Drake is scheduled to appear for her arraignment on July 16 at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 13 at the Ventura County Superior Court.
Joshua Graham Packer of Ventura
Joshua Graham Packer, 22, the alleged murderer of Brock Husted and his pregnant wife, Davina, in 2009, will proceed to trial in August despite numerous motions filed by his attorneys and the prosecution.
Recently, Packer’s attorney lost a motion to dismiss the presiding judge, claiming that Packer would not be able to get a fair trial. The Superior Court master calendar judge heard arguments from both Packer’s attorney and the prosecution and determined not to disqualify the current judge. Also, in June, a motion to consolidate the indictments was approved but Packer’s attorneys are seeking to appeal from the Ventura-based Second District Court of Appeal to determine whether the same judge can hear the separate indictments Packer is facing.
In May, Packer was indicted for sexual assault charges associated with his pending 2009 three-count murder charges. DNA evidence indicates that during the alleged murders, Packer allegedly forced Davina to engage in oral sex, which led to the additional indictment. Davina and her husband were both found dead, with multiple stab wounds, in their home, where they and their surviving two children were also victims of burglary and robbery.
Packer has pleaded not guilty to the indictments and now faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole due to the special allegations associated with the crimes: forced oral copulation, committing multiple murders, and committing the murders during a burglary as well as a robbery.
The jury trial begins on Aug. 6 at 8:30 a.m. in courtroom 25 at the Ventura County Superior Court.