BARSTOW • Kristina Garcia was likely asphyxiated, according to testimony from the County Coroner's top examiner given at the trial of her accused killer, Lawrence Rivera.
Forensic pathologist Frank Sheridan said the cause of the Lenwood woman's 2002 death could not be definitively determined due to the decomposed nature of her body, but there were no bullet wounds, stab marks, or obvious blunt force trauma to her body.
Rivera, 39, is currently facing murder charges in Garcia's death. Garcia's body was found in open desert off of Yermo Cutoff Road May 22, 2002 — six days after her disappearance. Rivera — who worked with Garcia at Raytheon and had a brief relationship with her — fled overseas to England, Germany, the Netherlands, and eventually Australia before he could be arrested and was eventually extradited in 2008 after years of appeals.
Sheridan said Garcia's body was so decomposed and damaged by animals that a forensic examination yielded few clues on the cause of her death.
"We lost of lot of detail," said Sheridan. "It was not possible to come to a conclusion on the cause of death."
Death by gunshot and blunt force beating were ruled out, and Sheridan said a stabbing death was unlikely — leaving smothering or strangulation as likely cause of death. A bone broken in approximately 75 percent of strangualtions was still intact in Garcia's body.
Sheridan said toxicology tests showing a .04 percent blood alcohol level as well as detectable amphetamine levels were "meaningless" since the body naturally produces those elements while decomposing.
Throughout Wednesday's testimony Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty displayed graphic images of Garcia's body and autopsy to jurors.
Two former shift managers from the Fort Irwin shopette where Rivera worked in 2002 also testified Wednesday, saying $2,000 went missing from the safe during Rivera's shift. Rivera purchased the plane ticket he used to evade authorities with cash or a check.
Shopette worker Sunae Evans said Rivera mentioned he needed money, a request she found odd because he had another higher-paying job at Raytheon. Both of Rivera's shopette co-workers said only they and Rivera had access to the safe during the time the money went missing.
Testimony in Rivera's trial is set to continue Friday morning. Judge Cheryl Kersey said the trail — originally expected to last until Feb. 25 — is moving much more quickly than expected.
If convicted, Rivera could face 25 years to life in prison.
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