Only one of the UCSD students was able to identify defendant Miguel Torres Espinoza in court as the robber, but San Diego police officers found the couple’s money and the woman’s cell phone in his pockets.
During the Sept. 27 preliminary hearing, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Einhorn ordered Espinoza, 29, to stand trial on two counts of kidnapping for robbery and two counts of robbing the college students, who are both 20 years old.
There is a stiff penalty for kidnapping for robbery — life in prison. It includes the possibility of parole after an inmate serves seven years. If Espinoza is convicted, he could face two life terms, and would likely be incarcerated for a minimum of 14 years.
Victims Raymond Chung and Jessica Liu testified they encountered a man with a gun at 11:30 p.m. as they left the CVS pharmacy at 8831 Villa La Jolla Drive.
“He had a gun in his hand. He had it pointed at us,” said Liu.
Chung also testified.
“Shut up! Don’t look at me,” Chung testified the robber told them.
The man got into the car with them and demanded cash. When Liu gave him $40, “He said it wasn’t enough,” according to Liu.
Espinoza then allegedly ordered Chung to drive to a Bank of America branch in Pacific Beach to withdraw money from a drive-through ATM.
Chung said he was forced to withdraw $400. When asked if the gun was real, he said “I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to risk it.”
San Diego police officer Jason Balinger testified he found “a very realistic-looking” pellet gun in Espinoza’s possession when Espinoza was arrested.
Chung wasn’t able to identify Espinoza after his arrest or in court, but Liu did. The couple said the suspect wore a black baseball cap, large glasses and two shirts at the time.
Chung testified the man ordered him to drive away from the La Jolla pharmacy and get on Interstate 5. Chung said he did as he was told, but said he asked the bandit if he could safely drop off his girlfriend somewhere.
Chung said he pulled over on the freeway, but the robber told him to “calm down” and resume driving.
“I was scared the whole time,” said Liu.
The couple said Espinoza ordered them to turn onto Garnet Avenue, and suddenly told them to stop in a residential neighborhood. He grabbed Liu’s laptop computer and said “thank you” before fleeing, said Liu.
The couple drove away and called 911 about a block away. Balinger testified he saw Espinoza running uphill in the area of Loring Street and Soledad Mountain Road in Pacific Beach.
Balinger told the judge he ordered Espinoza to stop and handcuffed him. He found the pellet gun in his waistband, a wad of $20 bills in one pocket and the victim’s cell phone in another pocket. A curbside lineup was conducted and Liu identified him.
The next morning, other police officers searched the area and found Liu’s laptop in some bushes in front of a Pacific Beach home, along with a black hat, shirt and gloves, said Balinger.
Espinoza, of San Diego, has pleaded not guilty. A trial date will be set on Oct. 11. The prosecutor is Jalyn Wang. Espinoza remains in custody on $750,000 bail.