UPDATE, SEPT. 22, 3:47 P.M.: 36-year-old El Monte gang banger Cesar Gomez was convicted today of murdering 24-year-old Inglewood prostitute Ashley Nicole Lilly in a swanky Garden Grove hotel in August 2009.
A jury found the illegal immigrant who has been deported three times back to Mexico guilty of one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery that sets Gomez up for a possible sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole at his Dec. 2 sentencing hearing in Santa Ana.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 16, 11:29 A.M.: Trial began this week for an illegal immigrant, three-time deportee and Los Angeles street gang member who is accused of severely beating and strangling to death a prostitute in a Garden Grove hotel room that was left so disturbingly macabre you'd think Stephen King did the set decoration. But when 36-year-old Cesar Gomez of El Monte (via Mexico) was arrested in September 2009 for the murder of 24-year-old Ashley Nicole Lilly, the burly and tatted thug with a violent rap sheet "crumpled like a cheap suit" and started "crying like a baby," an observer told the Weekly at the time.
He is charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery and, if convicted in a Santa Ana courtroom, faces a sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
This post generated a ton of hits and comments at the time:
Lilly left her home in Inglewood on Aug. 19, 2009, and checked into a room in one of Garden Grove's toniest hotels, the Crowne Plaza Resort on Harbor Boulevard near the 5 freeway. "Queen Sugar," as she called herself, had advertised her Orange County arrival on several adult websites.
Chillingly, a classified ad titled "Sugar's Steamy Hott Special," which was posted on the Weekly's Backpage.com the afternoon of Aug. 20, 2009, began, "Hey Fellas...its my last night in Garden Grove."
It really was.
Late that night or early the next morning, someone severely beat Lilly's face and body and strangled her to death. No sexual assault took place. The hotel room was ransacked, and Lilly's cell phone and laptop were missing.
Later in the morning on Aug. 21, 2009, hotel staff found Lilly's body on the floor of her room and contacted Garden Grove police. As the investigation dragged on, speculation ran rampant on some websites Lilly had used to communicate with her johns. Accusations flew that a particular pimp killed Lilly, while others claimed police were disinterested in solving the case because she was an African American prostitute. Whores booking rooms at an upscale hotel near Disneyland--let alone getting murdered there--was not the chamber of commerce-endorsed image Garden Grove wanted to get out, went this reasoning.
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However, what the critics obviously did not know was Garden Grove detectives, with the assistance of their Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department counterparts, were busily--and quietly--working the case. What the killer did not realize was because hotel rooms are cleaned daily, they are perfect laboratories for collecting prints and DNA evidence. Identifying, eliminating and settling on a suspect were a breeze, according to investigators.
Evidence collected at the crime scene eventually matched someone in law enforcement's DNA database (big time): Gomez.
Gomez's felony criminal history includes robbery, attempted murder and auto theft. He was deported three times to Mexico for being an illegal alien after serving time for his convictions: the first time in 2001, the next in 2004 and the third time in 2006. Police believe that upon his return to this side of the border, Gomez began establishing new identities to make it more difficult to track him. When Garden Grove detectives first approached him, he produced phony identification under a different name.
But this master criminal could not explain away Lilly's laptop being in his El Monte home.