“This defendant intentionally killed Mr. Espeleta”
A New York man arrested in 2020 for a Gay homicide that occurred 45 years ago in San Diego admitted to detectives he killed the man but claimed it was in self-defense, according to court testimony.
A trial date of May 12 was set March 23 for Dennis James Lepage, now 64, who is charged with the Dec. 31, 1975 murder of Alvaro Marquez Espeleta, 28, in his own bed.
Lepage again entered his not guilty plea before San Diego Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide and she set the trial date. Lepage was extradited from New York last August and remains in jail on $2 million bail.
Lepage’s admissions to detectives came out in a preliminary hearing March 8-9 before Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta, who ordered him to stand trial for murder.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox said the case was solved by the use of DNA evidence left behind by Lepage in a bloody towel and cigarette butts as well as palm and fingerprints in Espeleta’s apartment in the 3200 block of Reyard Way.
Espeleta, a Navy dental technician, died from “asphyxiation due to strangulation,” said Dr. Miguel Losada, who read from the 45-year-old report from the San Diego County medical examiner’s office.
Lepage left his palm print on Espeleta’s neck which was made visible through liquid and preserved as evidence, according to Salvatore D’Agostino, a crime lab technician. Lepage left his thumb print on a beer bottle and other prints on the bathroom sink and door, he said.
San Diego Police Detective Lori Adams testified evidence collected and preserved included Espeleta’s tooth found on the floor, a bloody towel, cigarette butts, and a broken ashtray which Lepage admitted to hitting the victim with.
Lepage was 18 years old at the time and was enlisted in the Navy in San Diego. Lepage was 6-feet-3-inches and weighed 168 pounds at the time, said Adams. Espeleta was 5-feet-6-inches and weighed 136 pounds, according to court records.
Espeleta was attacked in bed and his electric blanket was still on when police began processing the murder scene evidence, said Adams.
The detective met Lepage in a New York jail and asked him how he met Espeleta. Adams said Espeleta met him in downtown San Diego, saying “I’m going to a party. Do you want to go?”
Adams said Lepage told her both men drank alcohol, but no one else showed up at his apartment. Espeleta invited him to spend the night in his bed since he had been drinking, according to Lepage, she said.
Lepage told the detective he woke up and found Espeleta naked “on top of him and humping him.”
“He said he grabbed an ashtray and hit him with it 5-6 times,” said Adams.
“He stated he was scared and he was a young 18-year-old.”
“I woke up and he was trying to rape me. I was defending myself,” said Lepage, according to Adams.
“During the altercation, I didn’t know I killed him,” said Lepage to Adams.
“He had his ding dong out. He was on top of me.”
Another detective told Lepage “you’re a big guy” and questioned his story.
Lepage said he was intoxicated at the time.
Lepage told detectives the broken ashtray cut his middle finger and he washed his bloody hand in the bathroom. He still has a small scar on his middle finger, he said.
Detectives asked him why he didn’t call the police and Lepage said he didn’t know the address.
His attorney, Denis Lainez, asked the judge unsuccessfully to dismiss the murder charge and only order a trial for voluntary manslaughter.
“It is a clear case of self-defense,” argued Lainez. “Mr. Lepage actually believed he was in immediate danger.”
Lainez said police found seven empty envelopes of the medication Darvon and suggested Espeleta could have drugged Lepage with his beer.
“Maybe Mr. Espeleta was too aggressive,” said Lainez. “He never consented to that.”
Prosecutor Fox described Lepage’s claims as “a self-concocted story 45 years later.”
“This defendant intentionally killed Mr. Espeleta,” argued Fox, who added that Lepage applied “heavy pressure” which fractured his larynx in two places.
Lepage was discharged from the Navy in 1977 and now has three ex-wives, five daughters, one son, and grandchildren, court records say. Some of them may have been part of 18 people listening to the live-streaming hearing on the Superior Court website.
His crime scene prints were analyzed many times and checked with other law enforcement agencies but Lepage’s prints were only taken in 2010 when he was arrested for domestic violence.
Lainez told Lagotta that Lepage would not flee if his bail were reduced to $200,000. He said Lepage worked as a warehouse manager and a truck driver for 30 years. Lagotta set bail at $2 million.
The first witness was Ricardo Raquel who worked with Espeleta in 1975 and who found his body after the apartment manager let him inside.
“The discovery — it’s something you can’t really forget,” said Raquel.
“He was a low-key kind of guy,” said Raquel, who added he thought Espeleta might be Gay, but in 1975 that wasn’t talked about very much.