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Agua Caliente tribal member's murder case goes to jury

By Rich Tarpening, Assignment Manager, Rich.Tarpening@kesq.com
Published On: Apr 23 2013 04:14:08 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 23 2013 07:31:00 PM CDT
INDIO, Calif. -

 A Palm Springs woman stabbed her handyman to death intentionally, and was not acting in self-defense, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday, but the woman's attorney argued that his client was fighting for her life.

Candace Rochelle Duran, 24, is accused of killing Howard Villanueva on Sept. 23, 2007, at her home in the 29000 block of Biskra Road.  Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon told jurors in his closing argument that the evidence -- blood on the walls, signs of a cleanup and the locations of the injuries -- showed Duran intended to kill Villanueva.

The way blood was spattered on the bathroom, archway and dining room walls showed the victim "was attacked from the beginning" and quickly lost blood and consciousness when arteries in his neck were severed, Brandon said.  "These are not stab wounds placed by someone trying to get away. These are placed by someone trying to kill him," Brandon said.

Villanueva was stabbed 12 times, including a five-inch wound in his neck that would have buried the knife blade and part of the handle, the prosecutor said.  "At what point is the danger gone? ... How many stab wounds are necessary to keep a man from raping you?" Brandon said, referring to Duran's claim that Villanueva attacked her.

Duran took a shower and started cleaning up instead of calling for help, and had no defensive wounds, further showing her guilt, Brandon said. He also said Duran changed what she told investigators, and "not one of the stories she gave is consistent or reconcilable with the physical evidence."

"This is not the case of a poor girl assaulted by a man in her home.  This is a woman who deliberately attacked Howard Villanueva and finished the job," Brandon said.

Defense attorney Dean Benjamini said Duran was shaking and crying when her cousin arrived shortly after the attack, and told her cousin, a 911 dispatcher and police who arrived a short time later that Villanueva attacked her. At the police station, not knowing she was being recorded, she told her cousin that Villanueva "suddenly grabbed me ... I turned around and he had a knife, and that's when it got scary."

Benjamini also said Duran told an officer the attack was sexual.  "When you look at the consistency, look at the demeanor, look at the crying and the shaking at the scene, and it paints a pretty consistent picture of what happened in that house," Benjamini said.

He said Villanueva was moving forward and Duran was going backward during the struggle.  "He's coming at her, ladies and gentlemen, there's no two ways about it," the defense attorney said.  He said most of the 12 stab wounds were shallow slashes. Duran showed a willingness to stay at the scene and cooperate, and jumped in the shower because "that's human nature," not to get rid of evidence. She also let her cousin in the house, he said.

Benjamini contended that Duran had no motive to kill Villanueva.  "It doesn't fit with the physical evidence, it doesn't hit with anything she said and it certainly doesn't fit with anything you know," he said. 

He said Villanueva had set fire to a house, beaten one former girlfriend and raped and threatened another. He also had a "nearly toxic" level of methamphetamine in his system that day.  "She's in there by herself when this guy comes at her, with his intent very clear ... she had no choice what to do but fight for her life, and she did what she had to do," Benjamini said. 

Duran is being held without bail.  Jurors began deliberating late this afternoon. Deliberations are scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.