NEW UPDATES: Just Another Orange County Murder: Ashley Nicole Lilly


Cesar GOMEZ.jpg
Courtesy of Garden Grove Police Department
Cesar Gomez has been arrested in the murder of Ashley Nicole Lilly
Cesar Gomez looks pretty tough with his stocky build, ink-drum-draining collection of tattoos and long, violent rap sheet.

But when the 34-year-old illegal immigrant, three-time deportee to his native Mexico and Los Angeles street gang member was brought in to face Garden Grove police detectives Thursday after being arrested for the murder of 24-year-old Ashley Nicole Lilly, he "crumpled like a cheap suit" and started "crying like a baby," according to an insider who demanded anonymity.

Perhaps the gravity of the shit Gomez is in had finally hit him.

As Garden Grove police chief Joe Polisar put it at a press conference in front of his police station this morning, "My guess is he'll never see his native soil again."

Ashley Nicole Lilly worked as a prostitute under the name "Queen Sugar."

Lilly, who Polisar referred to as "a known prostitute from the city of Inglewood," on Aug. 19 checked into a room in one of the town's toniest hotels, the Crowne Plaza Resort on Harbor Boulevard near the 5 freeway. "Based upon our investigation we believe that Lilly was engaging in outcall prostitution activities," Polisar said.

Two days later, police were summoned to the hotel regarding "suspicious circumstances." Officers opened the door to Lilly's room and found the young woman dead on the floor. She had been severly beaten and the room had been ransacked. The Orange County Coroners Office later determined she had been strangled.

News of Lilly's death prompted much speculation among friends, family, johns, fellow prostitutes and curious netizens as to who killed her and why. Much of the speculation had filled a vacuum caused by the police department releasing few details about the crime. Some even accused investigators of dragging their feet because Lilly was a prostitute and African-American.

But, as police Captain Mike Hanfield explained today, police working in concert with the Orange County Crime Lab had concluded early on this was a "cold science case," meaning physical, serological and latent evidence collected at the scene would best reveal the identify of their murder suspect. Because hotel rooms are cleaned every day, that created a near-perfect scene for collecting such evidence, Hanfield said.

Meanwhile, investigators continued to collect and examine surveillance video, evidence people called in to the department, as well as checking Lilly's phone records and Internet files for possible leads, Polisar said. Names this police work turned up led to interviews  with people so they could be implicated or eliminated as possible suspects.

Then, on Tuesday, the California Department of Justice contacted the department to say DNA collected in the hotel room positively matched Gomez, whose DNA had previously been entered into the crime database from a previous conviction.

Photo by Matt Coker
Chief Joe Polisar describes the murder of Ashley Nicole Lilly.

Homicide investigators determined that Gomez had addresses in El Monte and Artesia, and that he often identified himself by another name and Social Security number, including his brother's, in an attempt to avoid authorities and another deportation. Their appearances are similar, Hanfield said, so it would be understandable if an officer who pulled Gomez over would not question the identity he provided.

After two days of surveillance, a car was followed in the area of Pioneer and Artesia with Gomez believed to be the man behind the wheel and two passengers riding with him. A Los Angeles County sheriff's unit pulled the car over, and Gomez gave a false name, according to the police report. His known tattoos led investigators to believe they had caught their man, something that was later confirmed with his fingerprints.

The suspect was then brought to the Garden Grove Police Department by investigators, and after putting up a brave front as he was led inside, it was behind closed doors that he "wept like a little bitch," according to the source.

"We were not sure if he was armed," the captain said. "But when he came to the station with us, he just shrugged his shoulders and kept his head down."

Gomez was later taken to Orange County Jail, booked on capital murder charges and held with no bail. Special circumstances will apply because a robbery was committed along with the murder, according to the Orange County District Attorneys Office. Gomez is being held without bail and, if convicted, could get life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He is expected to be arraigned on Monday at the West Justice Center.

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