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Construction Worker Accused of Stabbing, Beating 76-Year-Old Arcadia Woman to Death During Burglary

Chyong Jen Tsai is seen in an undated photo released April 18, 2019, by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Chyong Jen Tsai is seen in an undated photo released April 18, 2019, by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

A 76-year-old woman found dead in her Arcadia backyard earlier this year was killed by a man formerly been paid to renovate the home who returned to burglarize it, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Heber Enoc Diaz, 27, of Pasadena, is facing six felony counts including capital murder, elder abuse and burglary after allegedly using a hammer, jab saw and a box cutter in the April 9 slaying of Chyong Jen Tsai, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

L.A. County coroner’s records show Tsai died after being stabbed, beaten and strangled.

The homicide stunned and mystified neighbors after Tsai’s body was found on the lawn outside her home on the 300 block of East Forest Avenue by construction workers who came around 7 a.m. to continue a remodeling job.

In March, Diaz had been among the construction workers hired by the family, officials said. He’s accused of burglarizing the home while working there on March 19.

But Diaz was no longer employed by Tsai when he returned to the residence April 9, according to the DA’s office.

Prosecutors believe he was stealing things from Tsai’s garage when he encountered the woman and killed her.

A neighbor previously told KTLA some of the contractor’s tools were taken during a break-in shortly before Tsai’s death.

On the day she was killed, Tsai’s SUV — a white 2005 Lexus RX 300 — was also stolen, investigators said.

Neighbors described Tsai as a sweet and gregarious woman who was a wife, mother and grandmother. Her husband was out of the country when she was killed, they said.

Authorities investigate the death of a 76-year-old woman found in her Arcadia backyard on April 9, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)

Authorities investigate the death of a 76-year-old woman found in her Arcadia backyard on April 9, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)

The couple had a dog that was found at the scene unharmed.

Diaz was arrested on April 19 and charges were filed in the case April 23. He’s facing one count of murder with special circumstance allegations that the crime was committed during a robbery and a burglary, two counts of second-degree burglary and one count each of first-degree residential burglary, second-degree robbery and elder abuse.

Prosecutors say they’re also seeking sentencing enhancements for the allegations that he caused great bodily injury to a victim over age 70 and used deadly and dangerous weapons.

Two other defendants — 33-year-old Altadena man Luis Alonso Cruz Gaitan and Isis Ondina Villalobos, 26, of Pasadena — have been charged with acting as accessories after the fact. Gaitan also faces a second charge of receiving stolen property exceeding $950 in value, the DA’s office said.

Gaitan and Villalobos were both arrested May 8 and have pleaded not guilty to their charges, court and inmate records show.

Diaz was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, but the date was continued to Aug. 28. A preliminary hearing for Gaitan and Villalobos was set for Friday.

If convicted as charged, Diaz could face the death penalty or life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Gaitan and Villalobos’ charges carry a maximum possible sentence of three years in county jail, prosecutors said.

Diaz was being held without bail, while bond was set at $1 million each for Gaitan and Villalobos.

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