The Modesto man accused of stabbing a Tracy woman and leaving her for dead on the side of the road near Livermore admitted he is responsible for her death, according to a Bay Area TV station.
Daniel Leebenjamin Gross, 19, and Melissa Jill Leonardo, 25, of Modesto, were charged Wednesday afternoon of murdering 19-year-old Tracy resident Lizette Cuesta. Gross was given a special allegation of a deadly weapon and causing great bodily injury.
In a jailhouse interview with KTVU reporter Henry Lee, Gross said he was acting in self-defense after Cuesta elbowed him in the ribs. He said he "snapped."
He told Lee that he never intended to kill Cuesta, who, according to the report, was stabbed more than 20 times in the head, neck and back.
Lee said Gross told him that he feels like "s---. I f------ hate myself. I wish I could go back in time and this never happened."
Asked if he was responsible for what happened, Gross simply nodded, Lee said.
A friend of Gross on Wednesday painted a different picture of her friend, who she said she had known for nearly all of his life.
Ceres resident Jessika Kay Van Winkle said she and Gross attended the Victory Life Center church and schools including Mark Twain Junior High.
"He was always happy and calm near me," Van Winkle told The Bee. "He's never lost his temper. I don't believe he did this. I can't stop crying. I know he is a goodhearted person deep down inside."
Yet, during an emotionally charged court hearing in Alameda County Superior Court in Dublin, Gross appeared in court in red jail clothes, his hands in handcuffs around his waist. His arraignment was continued by Judge Gordon Baranco to Thursday.
Meanwhile, Leonardo also was arraigned on a murder charge but with no special allegations. Leonardo did not enter a plea on Wednesday.
Van Winkle said she last saw Gross nearly a year ago. She said she's never met Leonardo and did not know anything about Cuesta.
According to Lee's report, prior to the stabbing, the three of them – Gross, Leonardo and Cuesta – all were in a vehicle. They had smoked pot and, at one point, Gross and Cuesta were in the back of the vehicle having sex while Leonardo drove, Lee reported.
Cuesta was found by passers-by about 2 a.m. Monday along Tesla Road in a remote part of Alameda County east of Livermore. A blood trail indicated she crawled about 100 yards. With her last words, she identified Gross and Leonardo as her killers, authorities say.
Her wounds were described as "brutal," according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Both suspects – along with Cuesta – reportedly worked at a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Tracy, where Cuesta lived with her father, Ray. He told CBS News he found comfort in his daughter's strength in her dying moments, in her ability to name Gross and Leonardo. "She won, you know. I mean, I know she passed away, but when they did this to her, they figured, you know, they got away with it. And she didn't let them get away with it. She brought peace to herself, and she brought peace to me and my family."
An article on the website Heavy.com included a regular customer of the Tracy Boulevard fast-foot eatery as saying Gross and Leonardo worked there about a year." Jane Garcia described the two as 'hollow souls' who were 'constantly all over each other' while working. She further stated that Leonardo often displayed 'an attitude.'"
Danielle Fenisey, who said she worked with Leonardo at a Carl's Jr. in Manteca for about a year, largely in 2016, told Heavy, "She seemed normal to me, but she had her days when she would come into work kind of moody, but everybody has their days."
She told The Bee that Leonardo seemed "the jealous type." Leonardo has three children — two girls and a boy — Fenisey said, and "the guy she was with at the time when I worked with her was the father of all three kids, but they always were having problems, and then she moved to the Tracy Carl’s Jr. And I think that’s when she finally left her other boyfriend and began seeing Daniel."
A gofundme account has been established to help the family of Lizette Cuesta: www.gofundme.com/zsgwrc-lizette-cuesta-donation-fund.