Oak Harbor girl wasn’t pregnant when she was slain

  • By Diana Hefley and Katherine Schiffner / Herald Writers
  • Tuesday, February 15, 2005 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

OAK HARBOR – Elaine Sepulveda was not pregnant when she was killed Nov. 6, according to autopsy results released Tuesday.

Prosecutors still suspect that her boyfriend, James Sanders, murdered Elaine, 15, because he believed she was carrying his child.

Elaine died of asphyxia, the Island County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reported. Her death certificate does not indicate how she stopped breathing.

Elaine’s body was discovered and Sanders was arrested Jan. 14, two months after her parents reported her missing.

“It’s just been really hard this week, just seeing the death certificate, just seeing it on paper,” said Elaine’s mother, Mary Jimenez.

Elaine apparently sneaked out of her house early Nov. 6 to meet Sanders to talk about the pregnancy. When she didn’t return, her parents immediately suspected foul play because she had left her identification, money and security blanket at home.

Elaine had told several classmates she was pregnant. Sanders allegedly told one of those classmates, “It would be smart for Elaine to have an abortion,” according to Island County court documents.

Sanders, 18, faces second-degree murder charges. He is accused of killing Elaine and burying her body in his grandfather’s back yard.

Prosecutors say if Sanders is convicted, he should serve a longer prison sentence than the standard range because he believed Elaine was pregnant.

“If our theory of the case is correct, in his mind he knew she was pregnant, which makes him no less culpable, even if he was mistaken,” Island County prosecutor Greg Banks said via e-mail.

In court documents, “We alleged that he believed she was pregnant,” Banks wrote. “The death certificate has not changed our theory.”

Police suspected Sanders early in the investigation after his mother reported finding a bag of Elaine’s clothes in his room Nov. 7, the day after Elaine was reported missing. Tests revealed there was blood on Elaine’s sweat shirt.

Sanders told police he found the clothing in the middle of the road and said he did not know what had happened to her, according to court documents.

Sanders later told his grandfather he was trying to prevent Elaine from killing herself when he accidentally knocked her to the ground, causing a head injury, court papers say.

Elaine’s family searched for her for more than two months, refusing to believe the teenager was a runaway.

Memorial services were held for her in January in Oak Harbor and in El Paso, Texas, where her father lives.

Her mother and stepfather moved this week to another home in Oak Harbor. As she packed Elaine’s blanket and favorite teddy bear, Jimenez said she kept expecting her daughter to walk through the door.

“There’s so much I want to show her. You want to show her the new house, and she’s not here for that,” she said. “It’s so hard.”

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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