Acuna-Sanchez pleads not guilty in girlfriend's slaying
EUREKA SPRINGS -- Victor Acuna-Sanchez pleaded not guilty Monday to fatally shooting his girlfriend in front of their infant son.
Acuna-Sanchez, 18, has been charged with capital murder in relation to the New Year's Eve slaying of 21-year-old Laura Acevez. If convicted, he would face death or life imprisonment without parole.
Acuna-Sanchez has been in custody since Dec. 31, when paramedics found Acevez lying unconscious in her Eureka Springs apartment, with a gunshot wound to the head.
Acuna-Sanchez was arrested later that day, after deputies kicked in the door to a cabin on Bluebird Mountain and found him hiding in the shower with a .22-caliber handgun.
The medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide. A bullet found lodged in Acevez's skull was too damaged to match with Acuna-Sanchez's gun. However, investigators did determine another, unfired bullet found at the crime scene had been "cycled through the rounds" of the weapon.
Acuna-Sanchez had dated Acevez sporadically for the last two years, during which time family members said he constantly terrorized her.
In addition to the murder charge, Acuna-Sanchez is accused of aggravated robbery and violation of a no-contact order. He pleaded not guilty to all counts Monday.
Before the hearing began, Acuna-Sanchez sat in the jury box, looking a great deal more solemn than at his first judicial appearance three weeks ago.
He did not raise his head, instead studying the cuffed hands held in his lap. He closed his eyes and moved his lips as if silently praying, looking up only to confer with Public Defenders Robert "Beau" Allen and Bill James.
James, a Little Rock defense attorney, was specially appointed to assist in the case last week by the Arkansas Public Defenders Commission.
Jacque Alexander, defense services administrator for the commission, said he had been assigned as lead counsel to the case because Allen is not certified to handle cases involving the death sentence. Federal law also requires both a lead and assistant counsel in such cases, she said.
As the attorneys conferred, Acevez's mother, Laura Ponce, sat in the front row of pews, dressed in black and surrounded by supporters. Acevez's son, Jordan, lay in a portable car seat at her feet.
When the bailiffs led the infants father out of the courtroom, he passed by the boy. Acuna-Sanchez averted his face, and Ponce hastily flung a blanket over the carriage to cover the baby's eyes.
Acuna-Sanchez will next appear in court on Apr. 2, for an omnibus hearing, at the Western District Courthouse, in Eureka Springs.