The former girlfriend of a defendant being tried for planning the slaying of a Santa Maria drug dealer testified Thursday that Joseph Morales never admitted his involvement in the crime during phone calls that she secretly recorded under police orders after she agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.
Morales stands accused of allegedly orchestrating the August 2014 murder of Javier Limon, who the prosecution claims was killed over unpaid drug debts to gang members. Limon's body was found by fieldworkers, and autopsy results showed that he suffered 10 gunshot wounds that struck his lung, heart and liver.
Morales was serving time for attempted murder at a Lancaster prison around the time of Limon's death, and was using a cellphone to communicate with fellow gang members, along with his girlfriend, Josie Alejandre.
Alejandre testified that she was told by Morales that Limon was killed because he avoided paying money he collected from drug transactions and went into hiding. She claimed Morales never told her who Limon owed money to but that she did know there had been a business deal between Morales and Limon that went awry and soured their relationship.
Alejandre further denied ever selling drugs for Morales or being asked to do so.
Testimony revealed that Alejandre herself was facing criminal charges after a search warrant was served in April 2015 at a home she previously resided in, when detectives began investigating Morales and his alleged role in Limon's murder.
Alejandre testified she went to the sheriff's substation voluntarily and spoke with Sgt. Jarrett Morris, who told her she could be facing drug trafficking charges and could lose her kids.
She also testified that she felt scared as she was high on methamphetamines, stressed and confused when told there was a murder investigation.
"I'm a single mom raising kids, living on the streets," she testified, becoming emotional on the stand. She also noted that while she did regularly use and sell drugs, she only sold the substances to support her children, and wasn't paying taxes to gangs, or to Morales.
Alejandre later was promised by police that her charges would be dismissed if she agreed to cooperate with their investigation and also testify. Detectives gave her a recording device and ordered her to call Morales in prison, record the conversation, then hand it over.
During that conversation, which was played to the jury, Alejandre could be heard asking Morales who killed Limon.
"Word is on the street is that someone else did it, and not [Gregorio Agustine]?" Alejandre is heard saying. Morales maintained that he was minding his own business and focused on appealing his prior criminal case to get out of prison, and denied any involvement in the murder.
Morales didn't incriminate himself in the conversation, Alejandre testified, but police "weren't satisfied" because no confession was elicited.
She recorded a second phone call with Morales, and in that same call, Morales still denied any involvement, she testified.
In September 2015, Morris texted Alejandre, telling her to show up to court for her drug possession for sale charges, along with special gang enhancements, she testified.
"I thought you weren't supposed to face charges, per the agreement?" defense attorney Michael Scott asked.
Alejandre replied, "I thought so, too. I thought my case was going to go away."
Alejandre testified that she agreed to plead to the charges in September 2016 but still believed her case would be dismissed.
Prosecutor Cindy Gresser later pointed to Alejandre's plea form that she had signed, noting the form indicated she must obey all laws, keep in contact with Morris and follow his terms.
Gresser claimed that Alejandre often missed calls from Morris, and still continued selling or using drugs.
Alejandre countered that it was difficult to pick up calls while she was on the streets, couldn't pay her phone bill, and she reiterated that she only sold drugs to support her children.
Testimony resumes Friday morning.