Six-Years Later, Familial DNA Used to Find Killer of Teen, Young Woman

By EGP Staff Report

Nearly six years have passed since the rape and killings of a teenage girl and young woman in Lincoln Heights sparked fear that a serial killer could be on the loose.

Pleas to the public, offers of rewards for information leading to the killer led nowhere.

But police kept searching for the killer of 17-year-old Michelle Lozano and 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman, finally turning to a process called familial DNA testing to find their suspect.

Michelle Lozano were killed in 2011, prompting fears of a serial killer. (EGP photo archive)

Michelle Lozano was killed in 2011, prompting fears of a serial killer. (EGP photo archive)

On Wednesday, 32-year-old Geovanni Borjas was charged with capital murder. Police say they cracked the case by using a familial DNA test and secretly collecting the suspect’s spit from a sidewalk.

Borjas was arrested May 25 at his home in Torrance, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said. He was charged Tuesday with two counts each of murder and forcible rape, along with a single count of kidnapping.

The charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during commission of a rape and a kidnapping. The allegations make Borjas eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors have not yet decided if they will seek a death sentence.

Borjas pleaded not guilty, and is due back in court June 22, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial. He remains jailed without bail, His attorney argued he does not pose a flight risk, noting he works full-time and is a father.

Bree’Anna Guzman was killed in 2011, prompting fears of a serial killer. (EGP photo archive)

Bree’Anna Guzman was killed in 2011, prompting fears of a serial killer. (EGP photo archive)

Borjas is suspected of kidnapping and slaying Lozano in 2011; the teen’s body was found the day after Easter, about 11:40 p.m. April 25, 2011, dumped along the Golden State (5) Freeway near State Street in Boyle Heights. The coroner said she was strangled.

Police said the body had been wrapped in plastic bags, put in a plastic container and dumped over a masonry barrier along the freeway, and when the container hit the ground, it broke open.

The eldest of six siblings, Michelle had told her mother she was going to walk to the store. She was last seen near Lincoln High School.

Calling her a bright girl who got along with everyone, friends said they were shocked by her killing.

Bree’Anna went missing 9 months later, on the day after Christmas. The mother of two small children disappeared after telling family members that she was going to walk to the Rite Aid pharmacy at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Avenue 26, a short distance from her home in Lincoln Heights.

When Bree’Anna didn’t return, her family contacted police. They held candlelight vigils and plastered the neighborhood with posters with Bree’Anna’s face.

Geovanni Borjas was arrested in connection to the deaths of 17-year-old Michelle Lozano and 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman.  (LAPD)

Geovanni Borjas was arrested in connection to the deaths of 17-year-old Michelle Lozano and 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman. (LAPD)

Her body was found about 9 a.m. Jan. 26, 2012, near the Riverside Drive onramp to the southbound Glendale (2) Freeway in the Silver Lake area. The body was partially clothed and apparently was dumped at the location, police said.

Beck said both victims had been sexually assaulted.

In 2012, hoping to allay rumors of a serial killer on the prowl, LAPD issued an alert saying they believed the two murders were “distinct” and not connected. EGP at the time reported that police said they were unable to corroborate rumors of “several men riding around in a white van kidnapping young women from the street.”

The Los Angeles City Council first approved $50,000 rewards in each of the cases in February 2012: renewing the rewards in subsequent years to no avail.

However, Beck said detectives were eventually able to connect the crimes, and once that was done, police requested permission from the state Attorney General’s Office to perform a familial DNA search.

“After the familial search a person was identified as a contributory match to the suspect,” Beck said.

“That individual was suspect’s father, who was arrested on a non-sexual-assault-type crime earlier in his life.”

After conducting further information into the father’s background, detectives “identified a family member who they thought possibly could be the suspect involved in these (crimes) and they collected a surreptitious DNA sample,” Beck said. “They did this by following the individual. During that following, he spit on the sidewalk. Detectives collected that and the DNA was a match. It was a match to both of these murders.”

Beck declined to elaborate on a possible motive for the killings or a link between Borjas and the victims.

Mayor Eric Garcetti hailed the detective work that led to the arrest, calling the victims “two innocent women who had their whole lives ahead of them.”

He said the families and friends of the victims “are finally within reach of some of the justice that they and this city deserve.”

According to Beck, the case marks only the second time police have relied on a familial DNA search, which can narrow the search for a suspect to a particular family and point detectives to suspects whose DNA is not yet in a database. Beck noted that Borjas’ DNA was not in any existing database prior to his arrest.

The only other case in which the LAPD used familial DNA was the Grim Sleeper serial-killer case, in which detectives used a discarded pizza crust to collect DNA linking the killings to Lonnie David Franklin Jr., who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2016.

At a police press conference Tuesday, Bree’Anna’s father. Richard Duran struggled to keep control of his emotions. His daughter did not know Borjas, Duran said in Spanish, breaking down in tears as he described his daughter as loving mother and sister, and thanked the LAPD for their efforts to bring her murderer to justice.

“I have to thank the LAPD,” he said. “… Now we know the person that hurt our family is behind bars.

“That gives me a lot of happiness. I have closure now.”

 

Information from City News Service used in this report.

 

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June 1, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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