Nearly two decades ago, the body of an 11 year old girl was found molested and drowned, floating face down in a shallow pond near her home in Massapequa. Based largely on the accounts of two former girlfriends, a Los Angeles man is to stand trial in Mineola for her murder. Manuel Pacheco, 35, who had lived near Angela Marie Wong and was a childhood friend of her brother, was 15 when prosecutors say he killed her after she resisted a sexual assault. Because of his age then he will be tried in Nassau County Court as a juvenile and faces a maximum of 9 years to life in prison if convicted. He has maintained his innocence throughout.

He was arrested in Los Angeles in March 2002 for Angela's slaying after a Nassau detective reopened the case. A break came when the detective tracked down a witness who said she saw Pacheco take Angela into the woods on the July 1984 day that she was killed but never told cops. Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Robert Hayden said that in the 20 years since the murder, Pacheco, who that day had gone with Angela to a break-dancing competition, had repeatedly confessed to friends and girlfriends about what he did to Angela. When he was arrested in LA, he was also charged with beating his girlfriend and sexually abusing their 9 year old daughter.

The detective who headed the investigation 20 years ago testified February 3 that two strands of human hair found on Angela's corpse did not belong to her or to Pacheco. Pacheco's attorney, Thomas Liotta, has said the hairs show someone else must have killed Angela. However, retired Nassau Detective Jack Sharkey, who was the lead detective in the summer of 1984 when the body was found said the hairs could have gotten there a number of ways. He said the woods was a popular hangout for teenagers, suggesting that the two hair strands, one blond and the other dark, were not shed by Angela's attacker. Before her body was found it had been raining heavily and the rain could have washed the hairs into the pond, he said.

Nassau County's chief medical examiner, Tamara Bloom, testified February 4 that Angela probably died within an hour after she was seen alive in the summer of 1984, but that is only a rough estimate. Exactly when she died is critical to the defense's case to establish that Pacheco did not kill her. Pacheco was seen by more people in the evening than in the late afternoon of that day. Based on her review, Bloom said Angela died somewhere around 4:43 p.m. on July 17, 1984, about 23 minutes after the girl was seen alive. Liotti maintained in an interview outside of court that the time of death was later, around 7 p.m.

Nkeiruka Okoye, 31, a key prosecution witness who was 12 at the time, testified February 5 that on the day Angela disappeared, she saw her and Pacheco walk into the wooded area where Angela's body was later found.  She said the two walked through a gate at the intersection of Camp Road and Ford Drive West, heading toward the woods.  I am certain, without question, that I saw Angela with Manny, she said.

The most damaging testimony came February 6 when a former acquaintance, Margaret Mazza, said Pacheco told her in 1985 that he killed Angela after she resisted his attempt to have sex with her.  He had said that he had done it [killed Angela] because he didn't want to get into trouble, Mazza, 36, told jurors in the courtroom.

Two former girlfriends testified February 9 that Pacheco also told them he killed Angela.  Raluca Iofciulescu and Courtney Bennett were the second and third witnesses to testify that he had confessed to the killing.

On February 27, the jury found Pacheco guilty of murder, saying he intended to kill Angela when he drowned her by using a log to pin her head under water.  After the verdict was announced, several jurors said his confessions to the three women were the most compelling pieces of evidence presented at trial and convinced them he had killed her.

Pacheco will spend the next nine years to life in prison for drowning and killing Angela.    

(New York)