BARSTOW Lawrence Rivera took the witness stand in his own defense on Friday, explaining his version of the events surrounding the 2002 death of Kristina Garcia an account that often contradicted taped interviews and written reports.

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 the 26-year-old 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.

The prosecution through testimony from law enforcement contends Rivera killed Garcia in a struggle and left her body in the desert.

Rivera, 40, said statements he made in taped interviews were taken out of context and wholly disowned a report from an extradition hearing that took place in Australia, repeatedly saying he did not sign or recognize it.

Rivera said scratches on his body discussed throughout the trial were caused both by a fight with a Raytheon worker and beatings he received from Sheriff's deputies while they were questioning him. Rivera described in detail the his relationship with his co-worker and the fight, as well as the "Rodney King-style" beating he said he received from deputies.

Rivera said he initially told deputies the scrapes on his body were from a tree branch because he feared losing his job for getting in a fight.

Upon cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty displayed pictures of scratches on Rivera's body and asked if they were the injuries caused by a beating from a grown man. Rivera said yes.

When Daugherty brought up numerous contradictions between previous interviews and Rivera's testimony in court Friday, Rivera repeatedly said quotes were taken out of context and claimed he could not recall details from eight years ago, although he earlier recalled the content of the conversations during the beating he said Sheriff's deputies gave him.

Rivera said Garcia's blood was in his car because she cut herself on a knife when she was helping Rivera move a box of kitchen utensils. Although a time card showed Rivera absent from Raytheon on the day of Garcia's disappearance, he said he was there.

Rivera also said he did not flee the country following Garcia's disappearance, but rather had already planned the trip.

Throughout Friday's testimony, Rivera repeatedly denied killing Garcia.

"You lied about the tree branch because you were scared of getting in trouble," said Daugherty. "Are you scared of getting in trouble today?"

"I'm telling the truth," replied Rivera.

Testimony in the case is set to continue at 9:30 a.m. on Monday. If convicted, Rivera could face 25 years to life in prison.

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(760) 256-4126 or adome@desertdispatch.com