Hearing starts for man accused of killing woman during gang shootout

VISTA, Calif. – A preliminary hearing began Tuesday for an alleged gang member accused of involvement in a shootout in Escondido that killed a female motorist driving home from church.

Dionicio Torrez Jr., 24, was charged with murder, attempted murder of rival gang members and shooting at an occupied vehicle. A decision will be made later whether Torrez will face the death penalty if convicted in the killing of 55-year-old Catherine Kennedy.

The victim was found shortly after 9 p.m. March 7, alongside eastbound Grand Avenue near Midway Drive, suffering a gunshot wound to her head after her silver Toyota Camry crashed into a parked vehicle.

Investigators believe Kennedy was struck by a stray bullet fired by one of at least two gang members shooting at each other. Kennedy was taken to Palomar Medical Center, where she died.

During Tuesday's hearing, friends of Torrez took the stand and answered questions about the night of the deadly shooting. One witness said Torrez shot several shots in the direction of Kennedy's vehicle. 

The preliminary hearing will continue Wednesday. After the hearing, a judge will decide whether enough evidence was presented to warrant ordering Torrez to stand trial.