Three women were slain, one escaped in 1990s.
MADERA -- The first body was discovered in a pistachio orchard a couple of miles north of Madera. The 30-year-old mother had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Two months later, a bicyclist found the body of a 15-year-old girl lying in a canal on the city's outskirts. She had been beaten and stabbed several times.
Hunters found the third victim. The 22-year-old woman was lying on the ground in a field just west of town, her bloodied face in the dirt and her arms covering her head.
Three killings in four months. Madera County had a serial killer.
Now, more than a decade after the 1998 slayings, Jose Guerrero is standing trial for two of the three homicides. Opening statements in the case begin today in Madera County Superior Court.
Guerrero also is charged with the killing and sexual assault of a third woman in 1995 and the attempted murder of another victim later that year. Authorities say he is Madera County's first suspected serial killer in decades -- if ever.
"We're a cow county," said John Anderson, who was sworn in as sheriff right after the 1998 murders and still holds the post. "This is the kind of thing you read about happening in Oakland or San Francisco, or even Fresno, but not in Madera."
If Guerrero is convicted, a jury will decide whether he deserves the death penalty. It's the first time prosecutors here have tried a death penalty case in a decade.
Guerrero has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys declined to talk about the case. But in a taped confession played in court during pretrial motions Monday, Guerrero admitted killing three women and attempting to kill a fourth.
In one taped interview, Guerrero seemed to think he would receive the death penalty. He said he thought he was going to "Quentin," and added, "I want to get this over with."
San Quentin State Prison is where California inmates await the death penalty.
Guerrero's trial is expected to take up to six weeks. If convicted, most of that time will be spent on the penalty phase, in which jurors will determine Guerrero's fate.
But some of the victims' family members say a conviction won't end their grief.
"When you kill somebody, you bring tragedy to their family for the rest of their lives," said Jerry Prudek, the father of one of the victims, Julia Woodley.
Detectives who investigated the murders remember them well. As the killings continued in 1998, they said, residents grew increasingly nervous.
People posted signs on utility poles warning of a serial killer. Calls poured in to the police and sheriff's departments: Check out the suspicious man in the minimart. Has there been another murder? Why hasn't anyone been arrested?
"People were scared," said Sgt. Robert Salas, a Madera police detective who investigated the murders. "They kept calling and saying, 'What are you doing? We've got a serial killer. Nobody's safe.'"
The investigators followed the obvious leads first: They talked to relatives of the victims and found out who had grudges against them. But after many interviews, nothing stuck.
All three of the victims were involved in drugs and prostitution, so the investigators talked to every drug dealer they knew. But nothing came of those interviews either.
"We had no leads," said Terry Ginder, who was the only sheriff's detective assigned to investigate violent crimes in Madera County at the time. "I felt terrible because I just couldn't get anywhere with it."
No one talked to Guerrero, who investigators knew only as a low-level criminal without any history of violence. rest / source http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/1234150.html