RIVERSIDE (CBS) — A Moreno Valley man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and setting her body on fire as her six children watched, will stand trial on murder and other charges, a judge ruled Thursday.
Tyrone Lev Harts, 39, could face the death penalty if convicted in the Feb. 22, 2011, slaying of 35-year-old Brandi Morales of Moreno Valley.
Following a four-hour preliminary hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian Theirbach ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and set a May 11 post-indictment arraignment date.
Thierbach dismissed a special circumstance allegation of torture, saying there was no justification for the charge given the fact that the victim was dead by the time she was burned.
However, the judge ordered that Harts be tried on one count each of murder, attempted murder and being a convicted felon in possession of a gun, as well as five counts of child endangerment and special circumstance allegations of killing during a burglary and lying in wait, which make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to pursue capital punishment for Harts, who remains in custody without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
Sheriff’s investigators allege the 6-foot-2, 300-pound defendant attacked Morales at her two-story residence in the 11800 block of Wild Flax Lane after entering through an open sliding glass door on the back patio as she and her children slept.
The victim and Harts had recently ended their three-year relationship.
The ex-con went to an upstairs bedroom and shot Morales in the stomach, waking her six kids, the prosecution alleges.
The woman’s oldest child, a 15-year-old boy, attempted to rush to his mother’s aid, prompting Harts to fire a shot at the teenager, who retreated, prosecutors allege.
Morales managed to get out of the bedroom, but collapsed on the staircase, where the defendant allegedly set her body on fire.
Morales’ children — the youngest 6 years old — extinguished the flames as Harts fled the scene, according to investigators.
The defendant remained on the run for two weeks before surrendering to sheriff’s deputies