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Calif. woman arrested in 2002 rape-murder case

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. - A Southern California woman has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl who was abducted on her way to school a dozen years ago.

Rosemary Chavira, 27, was ordered jailed without bail Tuesday, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Rosemary Chavira CBS Los Angeles

Chavira was 15 when Brenda Sierra was kidnapped on Oct. 18, 2002 while walking to a friend's house to catch a ride to Schurr High School in Montebello.

Sierra was taken to a home in East Los Angeles, sexually assaulted, and then taken to another place where she was bludgeoned to death, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Her body was discovered the next day in Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Chavira was arrested near her Lancaster home on Friday.

The statement did not indicate what led to Chavira's arrest.

She was charged with murder during the commission of a kidnapping and rape and also with gang allegations. If convicted, she could face life in prison without possibility of parole.

Authorities expect to charge at least three other people within the next 30 days, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Investigators on the case previously released sketches of two unknown gang members and asked for the public's help in finding them. Authorities also want to question George Barraza, who is believed to be in Mexico but may travel back and forth across the border and is wanted on a previous drug conviction.

Investigators have said Sierra was killed by East Los Angeles gang members to intimidate or retaliate against her brother and mother, who had witnessed a gang shooting a few weeks earlier. According to CBS Los Angeles, Sierra's brother had testified against gang members in connection to that shooting just 10 days before the kidnapping.

"We now know that her abduction was not only in retaliation for his testimony but also to send a message to the neighborhood not to cooperate with law enforcement," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. Dave Coleman said, reports the station.

Lt. Coleman says the recent arrest in Sierra's case "sends a clear signal" that authorities haven't given up on solving the case.

"We have to praise Brenda [Sierra]'s family and her brother for standing up and doing what was right, and unfortunately, Brenda probably gave her life for that."