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Trial Set to Begin in Case of Human Head Found in Hollywood Hills

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Bexar County Sheriff's Office/Reuters/Landov

Dog walker Lauren Kornberg and her mother were hiking along a wooded trail near the famed “Hollywood” sign when one of the nine canines with them began frantically barking and digging.

“He had something in his mouth,” Kornberg tells PEOPLE about Ollie, the golden retriever, who then dropped the object out of his mouth. “It rolled kind of quickly passed us and dropped into the ravine.”

When her mother took a closer look, she realized it was a human head.

“I thought it was a movie prop,” says Kornberg of the gruesome January 17, 2012 discovery. “People do all kinds of filming and photo shoots there.”

Kornberg alerted authorities to Ollie’s gruesome find. With the help of a cadaver dog, Los Angeles police found feet and hands about 50 yards away, buried in a shallow grave. The victim was later identified as 66-year-old Hervey Medellin, a retired Mexicana Airlines clerk and an art collector.

In the ensuing months, the case generated widespread speculation, including theories Medellin’s death was tied to a Mexican drug cartel or even to Luka Magnotta, a Canadian porn actor convicted last December of dismembering a Chinese exchange student and sending some of his body parts to members of the Canadian Parliament.

But authorities zeroed in on Medellin’s boyfriend, Gabriel Campos-Martinez, who was charged with one count of murder in 2014. His trial is now scheduled to start this week in a Los Angeles courtroom.

“We are pursuing the charges against him because we feel the evidence will prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” prosecutor Bobby Grace tells PEOPLE.

Campos-Martinez’ public defender, Rudy Navarro, tells PEOPLE, “The people have a difficult case. They have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and this case is based mostly on circumstantial evidence.”

Investigation into Missing Persons Report Arouses Suspicion of Authorities

On January 16, 2012, police received a tip that Medellin was missing. The tipster told the police something peculiar about how he had heard about this: The emails about Medellin’s disappearance had come from Medellin’s own email address.

Later that day, an LAPD detective stopped by the Hollywood apartment Medellin shared with Campos-Martinez. Campos-Martinez allegedly told the detective that Medellin had told him in late December that he was going to Tijuana with two men Campos-Martinez didn’t know. He also told detectives that Medellin had called him several times from Mexico, telling him he would be home by January 6.

According to court documents, the detective drove Campos-Martinez to the police station to file a missing persons report. Later in the day, Campos-Martinez allegedly returned to the station where he “appeared to be crying uncontrollably and asked for a copy of the report,” according to a search warrant affidavit.

But from the start of the investigation, there were suspicious signs: Investigators couldn’t find any records that Medellin entered Mexico at the Tijuana border checkpoint during the dates described by Campos-Martinez. And, a week after Medellin went missing, Campos-Martinez transferred Medellin’s social security checks to a joint bank account, according to court records.

Also suspicious to those who knew him was the idea that Medellin would take a trip to Tijuana without telling his friends. “I never believed that Hervey was in Tijuana because when I spoke to him on December 26, he did not tell me that he was going to Tijuana the next day,” Medellin’s friend, the well-known Mexican actress Ofelia Medina, said during a September 2014 preliminary hearing.

“I never believed that,” she said, adding, “Hervey did not usually travel like that spontaneously. He was very organized and he had everything lined up.”

The suspicions of authorities were further aroused when they checked the internet history of one of the couple’s computers and discovered a search for sausage-making tools and meat-saws. Two days later, the user accessed an article entitled, “Butchering of the Human Carcass for Human Consumption.”

“The article talked, gave directions on how to cut up a human body,” testified Los Angeles Police Department detective Lisa Sanchez-Padilla at the preliminary hearing. “It gave directions on how high to go on the neck, where to cut on the wrist, the ankles, different parts of the body, and how to actually, in reading it, also how to drain it of blood.”

According to Navarro, opening statements in the trial will begin Wednesday or Thursday.

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