A year after a 41-year-old woman was found dead at a Turlock rest stop, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has arrested two Modesto individuals in connection to the homicide.
Bryan Dean Small, 42, of Modesto was arrested on suspicion of homicide and Cheryl Ruth Liberty, 65, of Modesto was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory for the death of 41-year-old Christina Cardoza.
Around 8 p.m. Feb. 26, 2014, emergency personnel were dispatched to the Enoch Christoffersen rest stop area on northbound Highway 99 for a report of an individual in need of aid. The fire and medical personnel rendered aid to Cardoza, but she died at the scene.
Law enforcement was summoned to the rest stop and Cardoza’s death was initially deemed as suspicious.
As detectives began tracing her movements before she was found at the rest stop they learned she had been in an altercation and sustained an injury in a rural area of Merced County, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Anthony Bejeran.
The autopsy determined Cardoza had died from blunt force trauma to her upper body and her death was ruled a homicide.
A few weeks after the death, the sheriff’s department released a statement identifying Liberty as a “person of interest” in the case, and that they were searching for her. In the release, investigators stated Cardoza had been injured near Campbell Boulevard and Winton Parkway in Livinston. The intersection is fairly isolated, but is about a mile away from a travel center with multiple fast food restaurants and stores.
Sheriff investigators now state it was Small who was involved in the altercation with Cardoza and that he was the one to inflict the fatal injury. Small was also identified as a person of interest in the case prior to his arrest.
Detectives said Liberty assisted Small after Cardoza’s death.
There was no information provided as to how detectives initially identified Liberty as a person of interest.
Detectives obtained arrest warrants Wednesday for Small and Liberty and found them near a residence in Modesto and took them into custody. Both were booked into the Stanislaus County Jail, where Liberty is being held on a $25,000 bail and Small is being held without bail.
About six months after Cardoza’s death Small was arrested in Modesto for robbery and assault charges. According to the Modesto Police Department’s report from the August 2014 incident, Small and another man, later identified as Leon Walker III, attacked a man with a baseball bat and nunchakus and took his personnel property and bicycle. The attack occurred at a market in downtown Modesto. The victim told police Small hit him with the nunchakus while Walker took his fanny pack. Then Walker hit him with the bat and Small took his bicycle.
A few hours later the police were dispatched to a family disturbance at a home in the 100 block of Spruce Street, which is two blocks away from where the attack occurred. At the scene they made contact with Small, who volunteered the information that he had been in a fight with someone earlier that day. He said the individual owed money to his mother.
Police were able to tie Small and Walker to the attack. The victim told investigators he did not know either man.
The two men each entered no contest pleas in Stanislaus County Superior Court to the robbery charges.
Small also had previous arrest in 2013 for possession of a controlled substance.
Cardoza lived in Turlock and Hilmar before moving to Merced. She was a middle school teacher in Los Banos. She left behind a son, husband, mother, father, and several siblings.
Anyone with information on the homicide investigation is asked to call Detective Gregory Buck of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department at 525-7103.
If you have any tips, you can leave an anonymous tip by calling Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can also e-mail tips athttp://www.modestopolice.com/CrimeStoppers, or text them to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message and be eligible for a cash reward.