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Girlfriend of slain restaurateur testifies

September 16, 2010 1:37:10 PM PDT
In her long-awaited testimony, the girlfriend of slain Los Gatos restaurateur Mark Achilli told jurors Wednesday she planned to marry him and that she never loved the man suspected in his murder.

Tessa Donnelly dated both Esequiel "Paul" Garcia and Achilli prior to the shooting death of Achilli in the driveway of his Overlook Road townhouse on the morning of March 14, 2008.

Garcia, along with Miguel Chaidez, who prosecutors claim arranged the murder, and Lucio Estrada, the alleged hitman, are all on trial for the murder. The trial is now in its third week.

Prosecutor Jeff Rosen alleges Garcia orchestrated Achilli's death because Donnelly ultimately chose him over Garcia. He did that by paying Daniel Chaidez, a cousin of Miguel Chaidez and a bouncer at Mountain Charley's, $9,500 in two separate payments for the job, Rosen said. Miguel Chaidez then contacted Estrada in Southern California and paid him to kill Achilli, he said.

All three men have been charged with first-degree murder and face life in prison if convicted.

Donnelly was a bartender at popular downtown Los Gatos nightspot Mountain Charley's saloon and the adjacent 180 Restaurant, owned by Achilli until 2007, when he sold them to Garcia.

Donnelly's testimony was the most anticipated due to the central role she played in the death, which prosecutors called the result of a love triangle that led to a case of murder-for-hire.

She made her entrance and exit through the judge's chamber, whereas other witnesses have come and gone through the front door of the courtroom.

On the stand, Donnelly corroborated the prosecution's claim that Garcia was a possessive and obsessive boyfriend.

First she dated Achilli, whom she broke up with after finding out he had an affair with another woman, she said.

Then, in the weeks after Garcia purchased the restaurants, she accompanied him and some of his friends to his house in Discovery Bay for a weekend, where the couple had sex for the first time, she said.

Soon afterward, she said, he told her he loved her and wanted to have children with her. Her response to him was "thank you" and that the relationship was going too fast, she said.

Donnelly said she and Garcia spent most weekends in Discovery Bay, but that she started losing interest a few months later the more he questioned her about her whereabouts. She said she saw him drive by her apartment and Achilli's townhouse numerous times.

On New Year's Day, 2008, she lost her cell phone while she was out with Garcia. She didn't see it again until Rosen placed it in front of her today and asked her if she had given Garcia permission to keep it at his house. Her answer was no.

She said she stopped having sex with Garcia, and in January 2008, she told him, "We shouldn't date anymore," and that she wanted to get back with Achilli.

"He wasn't happy," she said. "He told me I was wasting my life."

Garcia could not understand why she wanted to be with someone much older than she was, the 29-year-old Donnelly said. Achilli was 53 when he was killed.

After she broke up with Garcia, he demoted her from manager to bartender but continued pursuing her, Donnelly said. She said she remained friendly toward him because they worked together and she wanted to keep her job.

She said that a month later, she took trips with Garcia to Portland, Carmel, and Las Vegas, but that they weren't having sex, contradicting Garcia's friend Joey Battiato's testimony Tuesday that Garcia told him they did have sex.

The Carmel trip was a Valentine's Day gift, and Donnelly said she agreed to it because Achilli was seeing the other woman and she knew Garcia wanted to get back together.

"There was a possibility that Paul and I could work things out," she said.

After returning from the trips, she went back to Achilli, and for his birthday on March 12, the two of them went to Las Vegas, where they talked about marriage.

At the same time, Garcia was flooding her cell phone with text messages that said, "What are you doing? I can't believe you're with him," "Are you playing games?" and "Let me know when you want me to yourself."

When Rosen displayed the text messages on a screen, Donnelly said she couldn't recall any of them.

Defense attorney Harry Robertson questioned Donnelly about her marijuana and alcohol habit. She admitted she smoked marijuana daily then and still does, and that she used to drink four to five nights a week, sometimes to the point where "things got fuzzy."

The defense maintains that the case is about a drug debt collection and that Daniel Chaidez was using Garcia as a scapegoat. Daniel Chaidez later pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge in exchange for testifying against Miguel Chaidez.

The trial will continue Thursday.


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