Katherine Voelker's family said the 26-year-old woman took out a restraining order and sought refuge in a Modesto women's shelter after her boyfriend of five years beat her.
Police said Erick Vogel tracked her down anyway, breaking out the window of a Modesto motel where Voelker was hiding in April 2009 and stabbing her nearly a dozen times in front of their two young children.
On Tuesday, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff said Vogel, 39, must stand trial on charges of murder, burglary and violating a restraining order.
"I do have some relief," said Voelker's younger sister, 25-year-old Jennifer Sahines, who adopted her sister's two children. "We're one step closer."
But Zeff also dealt the prosecution a blow, ruling that Vogel's statements about the crime during interviews with police were inadmissible because Vogel asked for — and was denied — access to an attorney.
Of his roughly four hours of interviews, Zeff allowed only one statement made by Vogel after police found the Waterford man "playing possum" by hiding in some bushes three days after the crime.
"I really f----- up," Vogel told police, according to court testimony. "I really loved that girl."
Police say Vogel broke into Voelker's room at the Rodeway Inn on McHenry Avenue, then killed her about 2:20 a.m. on April 22, 2009.
A female witness at the motel heard children screaming after she awoke to the sound of breaking glass, Modesto police Detective Phil Owen said.
The woman heard a 4-year-old girl crying: "That was my daddy, that was my daddy," Owen said.
The woman later identified Vogel from a photo lineup.
"He has the same smirk," the motel resident said as she looked at Vogel's picture.
Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu disputed that the woman's identification of Vogel was ironclad, pointing to another witness who said she saw a second man at the scene.
Sandhu argued the crime was at most manslaughter, committed not with premeditation but in the "heat of passion."
Vogel will be arraigned on the three charges and enhancements Sept. 28. He is being held at the downtown Modesto jail.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.