Man accused of killing woman during gang shootout could face death penalty

SAN DIEGO — An alleged gang member accused of involvement in a shootout in Escondido that killed a woman driving home from church must stand trial on murder and other charges that could lead to the death penalty, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Dionicio Torrez Jr., 24, is charged with murder, attempted murder of rival gang members and shooting at an occupied vehicle. After a two-day preliminary hearing, Vista Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman found that enough evidence was presented to order the defendant to proceed to trial.

A 16-year-old boy was also arrested in the case and charged in Juvenile Court.

District Attorney Summer Stephan has yet to decide whether Torrez will face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of murder and a special circumstance gang allegation in the death of 55-year-old Catherine Kennedy. A Superior Court arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 6.

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. Her silver Toyota Camry had crashed into a parked vehicle, and 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.