By Tommy Nguyen
STANISLAUS, CA – The preliminary examination hearing for Juan Ibarra-Tapia resumed this week in Stanislaus County Superior Court with testimony on details of the events prior to the alleged crime.
Ibarra-Tapia was arrested for the shooting and killing of a 22-year-old woman in Turlock whom he had been allegedly stalking since 2021. He was booked into the county jail on several felony charges, including homicide, firearm counts and evading the police.
Before the hearing began, Deputy District Attorney Melissa Chichportich filed the motion to amend the original complaint, the stalking charge, which was granted by Judge Dawna Reeves.
She also requested the investigative officer for this case be designated to remain in the courtroom. The normal exclusion of other witnesses was also granted by the court.
Deputy Sheriff Tajinder Dhami, who was dispatched to Harvest Garden Apartments in Merced about a vandalism incident, said the victim of that, also the later murder victim, spoke to Officer Dhami about her damaged car.
According to the record, a suspect threw acid on the victim’s car and caused $1,000 damage, and both the victim and Officer Dhami could not identify the suspect through the live camera feed she showed him.
The second witness brought to the stand was the victim’s sister, who testified to the accused’s behavior observed prior to the incident. She knew Ibarra as a friend of her sister and that they worked together.
The witness used to talk to her sister about her relationship with the accused and how it progressed. When the relationship began shifting negatively, there was constant banging by the accused on the victim’s door and window, said the witness, who added things escalated to slashed tires and broken windows, and ended up with her car being burned.
According to the victim’s sister, the accused wanted more than just a sexual relationship with the victim and was rejected, which allegedly led to the aforementioned vandalism. The vandalism worsened when the victim got into a new relationship with another man, the witness noted.
The witness then testified to an incident when the accused was seen stalking the victim. It was the night when the sister/witness and two other men were at the victim’s house setting up a surveillance system. She saw the accused getting out of his car and peeking in the window with a flashlight, before one of the men approached him.
The sister said the victim had to use her mother’s car which was then burned in October of 2021. On the same day, the witness visited her sister/victim at work and found the accused, the victim, and sister’s new boyfriend working at the same time.
According to the witness, the accused acted quite furious after hearing her call the victim’s new boyfriend “brother-in-law,” explaining, “He was typing hard on the keyboard, and slammed his hand on the desk where the computer was at…”
The witness had planned to follow the accused later that night since she suspected that he was the one following her sister, so she parked her car down the street.
She witnessed the accused’s car following her sister and the new boyfriend’s car. She followed the accused until he reached the boyfriend’s house and parked down the street, which was when they confronted him.
When being questioned at the time, the accused responded that some people made him follow the victim, that “a guy in a white truck” called the store where they worked.
After those incidents, the witness/sister said she saw the victim had multiple anxiety attacks, with some of them being so severe that an ambulance had to be called. The victim also expressed to her sister multiple times that she was scared of the accused.
Furthermore, the witness was with the victim twice when she attempted to request a restraining order against the suspect, but the accused was only given a seven-day restraining order.
Defense Attorney Marion Titus began her questioning by clarifying if the witness really recognized the suspect of all the aforementioned vandalism.
The witness was asked to describe the many other occasions when a man, whose face was not seen, dressed in all black, would walk around and inspect the victim’s vehicle.
Titus delved into the previously mentioned night when the witness and her group followed the accused and stressed the fact that they chose to follow him instead of informing the police.
The witness later confirmed with the prosecution that the walk of the suspected man dressed in all black reminded her of the accused.
After a brief break, the court called another witness, one of the officers who the victim talked to about the series of vandalism prior to the murder.
The officer said the victim, when the officer spoke to her earlier, made it clear she did not want a relationship with the accused, and remarked, “I will be next” after the vandalism.
According to the officer, while the victim was still working at the same location with the accused, and the victim said he told her once that he was going to give her a performance review of some sort, in which he asked for lewd photographs and would give her a bad valuation report if he does not receive them.
As the officer reviewed text messages exchanged between the victim and the accused, the accused did express his “disappointment” as he found out that the victim started a new relationship with someone else.
However, the defense later confirmed with this witness that in the text records, there was no evidence of any threats or hints that the accused have anything to do with the series of vandalism on the victim’s properties.
Another officer testified about the emergency protective order in regard to the vandalism case.
During an attempt to seek a protective order after a panic attack, the court denied the victim’s request and the witness had no idea what reason the court might have had for that decision.
The fifth witness, the victim’s mother, talked to her about an alleged confession of the vandalism from the accused.
Quickly, the sixth witness was brought to the stand, a man whose truck the victim was borrowing and was also burned. The prosecution wanted to know if this witness might have recognized someone at the scene of the arson, which he did not.
The next two witnesses brought to the stand were two officers who the victim talked to about the vandalism cases and the accused, whom the victim said had been stalking her and causing all the damage.
The last witness was the closing manager where the victim and the accused worked, and she said the victim’s boyfriend at the time received a call from the victim with “frantic yelling” and went toward the front door worriedly, which was when they started hearing gunshots.
She ordered the man to go back inside and shut the door until they knew it was safe, and proceeded to call the police.