L. A. Times

Friday, March 12, 1999

Papers Show Ventura Man Feared Wife

By TINA DIRMANN, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

Just weeks before he was shot to death, Pedro Alba Barragan told a friend his wife had purchased a gun and worried aloud that she would use it against him, court records show.

According to investigators, the Ventura man reported his suspicions to the woman Barragan's wife believed--correctly--he was having an affair with. The woman, Maria Ortega of Oxnard, also reported being afraid of Barragan's wife, Gladis Soto.

Records filed this week by the district attorney's office also show that a distraught Soto told family members she would "kill her five children in an auto accident."

Soto, 37, was arrested Feb. 23 on suspicion of killing her husband of 15 years while the children and a friend slept down the hall.

The court documents were filed in an effort to persuade the court not to reduce Soto's $1-million bail. Though she contends she was an abused wife who lashed out after years of mistreatment, prosecutors portrayed her as violent and vengeful. The bail reduction was denied earlier this week.

Court records filed by Soto's attorney, on the other hand, describe the couple's last night together as a violent conclusion to a marriage marked by infidelity, drug addiction and physical abuse.

Defense attorney Jorge Alvarado says Barragan was "in a good mood" Feb. 19 and spent the early part of the evening at his Ventura apartment eating dinner with his family. But afterward, Barragan showered, "dressed very nicely," and told his wife he was going over to the house of his girlfriend, alleged to be Ortega, court records said.

When he returned just before 3 a.m., Barragan became violent, Alvarado's court declaration said. He grabbed Soto, ripped her shirt and panties and forced her to have sex, Alvarado said.

Afterward, Barragan fell asleep and Soto went into the living room and cried, Alvarado said. About 30 minutes later, Soto returned to the bedroom, lay down next to her husband and fired a single bullet into his head, according to the court records.

"She had to stop her husband who had once again violated the sanctity of her body by forcing her into another sexual act against her will," Alvarado said in court papers. "And that is what she did."

Alvarado said Soto actually purchased the gun used in the killing just a few days before the incident. She bought it for protection, he said.

The children were not awakened by the shot. After killing her husband, Soto stashed his corpse in a closet until Sunday evening, when she dragged it to an unattached garage, authorities said. To dispose of the body, Soto used an electric table saw to cut off the head, legs and arms, authorities said.

A transient later saw a woman trying to set the remains on fire outside of a Ventura RV park, police said.

Authorities identified the body through fingerprints and served a search warrant on Soto's home. There, authorities found a .25 caliber handgun in the couple's bedroom closet, court papers said. There was a large bloodstain on the mattress.

In the garage, investigators found "a chop saw with what appeared to be human matter on it." And in a garment bag, tucked in the corner of the garage and under a large carpet, was Barragan's torso, records said.

Just before her arrest, court records say Soto admitted shooting her husband.

Soto is in custody at the Ventura County main jail, where she is regularly visited by a neuropsychologist, Alvarado said.

Soto's bail hearing was earlier this week. Despite Alvarado's pleas for a bail reduction, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy persuaded a Superior Court judge to deny the request. Murphy argued that Soto is a flight risk because of extensive family ties in Mexico. Murphy also called Soto a threat to society.

The documents filed by prosecutors to back up the claim characterized Barragan as worried about his wife's intentions after she bought a gun.

In January, Soto was arrested on suspicion of using her car to ram a van carrying Ortega and two of Ortega's children. Soto was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, a charge pending when Barragan was killed.

"I want this woman to leave me and my family alone," Ortega wrote in a request for a restraining order filed in the days after the alleged assault incident. "She has already caused enough trouble and I want her to stop bothering me."

Three days after the killing, a judge ordered Soto to stay away from Ortega. In an interview with authorities after the slaying, Ortega said Soto frequently called her house and warned that "she had better stop seeing her husband or something bad was going to happen."

Soto is scheduled to next appear in court April 15 for a preliminary hearing on murder and assault charges.

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