TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - After a suspenseful few minutes of looking over the evidence presented to him, a judge at Shawnee County Court bound Manuel Alcala over for trial.
Alcala, 32, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of his wife, 34-year-old Ashley Alcala, on October 18, 2012. Ashley Alcala was found inside her home on 3022 SE Kentucky, with a gunshot wound to her head.
Manuel Alcala's mother, Manuela Alcala, his brother Gabino Alcala and a family friend, Benjamin Anaya, all from El Paso, Texas, are also charged with the same two counts in the case.
At Manuel Alcala's preliminary hearing in Shawnee County Court Wednesday, continued from November, Topeka Police detectives testified that Manuela Alcala, Gabino Alcala and Benjamin Anaya had all traveled from El Paso to Topeka the day before Ashley Alcala was found dead in her home.
Detective Justin Bruxterman told the court he analyzed cell phone records that showed Benjamin Anaya exchanging text messages with other parties to inquire about obtaining a handgun. "I need anything small, I need the clips too," Bruxterman quoted the text messages as saying, adding that Anaya communicated he was willing to paying up to $450 for it.
The text messages were dated October 16. Prosecutors say that's the same day Manuel Alcala wired money in the amount of $600 to his mother in El Paso.
Anaya and Gabino Alcala returned to El Paso within hours after arriving in Topeka and were detained by Texas authorities there. Detectives testified that bloody clothing was found in their pick-up truck.
Sergeant Richard Volle said he went to El Paso to investigate. He found a torn-up, hand-drawn map of Ashley Alcala's neighborhood, with her house marked with an "X" in Manuela Alcala's trash bins.
State prosecutors, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacqie Spradling and Assistant District Attorney Andrea Nelson said several pieces of circumstantial evidence warrant Judge David Debenham's ultimate decision to bind Alcala over for trial.
"We have this defendant (Manuel Alcala) who wired $600 to his mom, a co-defendant, that happened two days before the murder," Spradling said. "There was the purchase of a gun. Everybody came up to Kansas and we have some tracking of the phones that puts the mom in the area of first where this defendant lived, then at the victim's," Spradling said.
In Manuela Alcala's hearing Monday, detectives testified that phone records placed her near the victim's house around the time of the killing, though that statement was not made during Manuel Alcala's hearing.
Defense attorney Stacey Donovan throughout the hearing questioned the state's evidence that there was a conspiracy and that they rise to the level of first-degree murder.
"My client wired money to his mom. That's all. It's in a vacuum," Donovan said. "There is no evidence to bind him over for murder," she said.
Judge Debenham took five long minutes to look over evidence, causing many in the courtroom to question whether he would decide in favor of the state's prosecutors.
In doing so, he cited among his reasons: the door to Ashley's home being unlocked, no sign of forced entry, Manuel Alcala telling witnesses he thought about killing himself, his wife and her suspected boyfriend as intention and motive, and his lack of emotion when he learns of his wife's death.
"One would expect [...] some show of emotion," despite the separation, he said.
"Altogether, the state's probable cause burden has been met," he concluded.
Manuel Alcala will have his jury trial on March 25 - the same day his mother, Manuela Alcala is scheduled for trial before Judge Evelyn Wilson.
Benjamin Anaya and Gabino Alcala remain in custody in Texas and are resisting extradition.