A registered sex offender was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in the cold case slaying of a pregnant Wilmington mother found beaten to death on a Palos Verdes Estates beach nearly 40 years ago.
Robert Allan Yniguez, 66, of San Pedro, pleaded not guilty in October to one count of murder with the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a rape, making him eligible for the death penalty.
During a two-day preliminary hearing in Torrance Superior Court, Public Defender Patricia Green sought to have the case dismissed, casting doubt on DNA evidence and noting that a rape kit was not conducted on the body of Teresa Broudreaux.
But Judge Gary Tanaka was not persuaded, ordering Yniguez to be tried for the March 1980 killing, which went cold until evidence was tested for DNA five years ago.
Broudreaux, a 20-year-old newlywed, was found dead on Malaga Cove Beach by a surfer on the morning of March 4, 1980. Her bloodied and bruised body was nude except for her knee socks and she was five months pregnant with her second child, officials said.
An autopsy determined Broudreaux died of a massive blow to the head and a medical examiner noted defensive wounds on her fingers.
Investigators found her purse at the scene, as well as a plastic cup with her fingerprint, a bottle of a non-alcoholic beverage and tire tracks that were not deep enough to be analyzed for a potential match, according to court testimony.
It was unclear why a rape kit was not conducted and why fingernail clippings as well as oral, vaginal and anal swabs were not tested for DNA. Green noted inconsistencies in a coroner’s report and on evidence envelopes making it unclear whether evidence was collected before or after Broudreaux’s body was washed. But Deputy District Attorney David Zygielbaum said the handwritten inconsistencies were outweighed by DNA evidence.
“We have a confirmed rapist whose DNA is found on a body fully naked in knee socks on the beach with a massive head injury,” he said.
Green also said prosecutors were wrong to assume a rape had occurred because of a single sperm head being found on Broudreaux’s pubic hair.
Yniguez glanced back at family members sitting in the gallery as he was led away by a bailiff Tuesday. Broudreaux’s relatives, including her daughter, who was four years old at the time of her mother’s death, sat on the opposite side during the hearing.
At one point during testimony from a former morgue attendant who photographed Broudreaux’s body, Yniguez took off his glasses and appeared to wipe tears from his eyes as his attorney patted him on the back.
Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez testified that he was assigned to the case in June 2013, a few months before a criminalist ran DNA from the single sperm head found on Broudreaux’s pubic hair against a national database, finding a match with Yniguez, who was convicted of rape in 1982, according to court testimony.
The odds that the DNA belonged to someone else were one in 82.5 trillion, he said.
The hearing also included testimony from coroner’s officials, police who responded to the crime scene and Broudreaux’s husband, Ronnie Fematt, who for decades lived under a shadow of suspicion that he was involved in his wife’s death.
His DNA was not found on her body, officials said.
Fematt described the last time he saw his wife of five months alive. It was late at night on March 3, 1980. They had been dropped off at their home on Robidoux Street in Wilmington after hanging out at a friend’s house, and were arguing because Fermatt wanted to go back and continue partying, he said.
The argument ended with Broudreaux leaving the house and walking east toward L Street, where her sister lived, Fematt said.
He walked north toward Pacific Coast Highway headed for the friend’s house, where he discovered everyone had left.
Broudreaux never returned home and Fematt didn’t find her at her previous residence that night.
He checked her sister’s home on his lunch break the next day, where he said he found the sister on the phone with her mother, who was being visited by detectives.
Hernandez testified that he first questioned Yniguez in Broudreaux’s death in December 2014, pulling Yniguez aside when he visited the Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division station in San Pedro for his annual registration as a sex offender.
Yniguez repeatedly denied knowing or even recognizing Broudreaux, Hernandez said, and said he had no involvement in her death.
When asked if there was any reason for his DNA to be on Broudreaux’s body, Yniguez “paused, kind of chuckled” and replied, “there shouldn’t be,” Hernandez said.
At the time of the killing, Yniguez had moved in with his father in Wilmington from Torrance after his workplace closed, according to court testimony.
Yniguez admitted that in 1981, he picked up a woman hitchhiking in Wilmington, dropped her off in Redondo Beach, then raped her, Hernandez said — an admission Yniguez later denied.
He was charged with rape, but the case was dropped when the victim never showed up at trial, Hernandez said.
In 1982, Yniguez was convicted of raping a woman he lived with, but said the sex was consensual, according to court testimony. He was also arrested and released on suspicion of assault with intent to commit rape in 1976, Hernandez said.
In March 2017, the detective and a deputy district attorney knocked on the door of Yniguez’s San Pedro home unannounced for another interview.
Yniguez again denied knowing Broudreaux or having anything to do with her death.
The meeting became tense at one point, Hernandez said, but Yniguez was persuaded by a family member to continue talking with investigators.
Six months later, he was arrested and charged with murder.
If convicted, Yniguez faces life in prison. Prosecutors will decide whether to seek the death penalty.