John Laroche, 62, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2020, in the 1995 murder of 41-year-old Gloria Hassemer.
(From Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)
Civic Life

Man accused in 25-year-old cold case makes first court appearance

John Laroche is accused of murdering Gloria Hassemer in Watsonville back in 1995. “Mr. Laroche, as I believe you know — but let me explain to you — you are here on a new charge of murder.”

John Laroche, the man accused in the 1995 murder of Gloria Hassemer, did not enter a plea in his first court appearance Monday.

Laroche, 62, appeared remotely before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati at a scheduled arraignment.

“Mr. Laroche, as I believe you know — but let me explain to you — you are here on a new charge of murder,” Cogliati said, adding that he faces a felony enhancement because of a prior conviction.

The arraignment was continued to Jan. 11 at the request of Laroche’s public defender, Art Dudley, and Cogliati placed Laroche on a no-bail hold.

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Laroche said little during the brief hearing. He assented to his name and the appointment of Dudley as his public defender, and once could be heard complaining of issues viewing the on-screen proceedings without glasses.

Because of COVID-19 protocols, Laroche appeared via livestream from a small courtroom at the jail while Cogliati and prosecutors appeared from the courthouse across the street. Laroche is confined in isolation at the jail as part of its standard two-week COVID-19 quarantine protocol, according to Dudley.

Laroche is charged with killing Hassemer, a 41-year-old single mother, in a case that dates back more than 25 years.

Hassemer’s body was found June 10, 1995, along the Pajaro River levee near the Highway 1 overpass. Authorities said she was bludgeoned to death with a 35-pound rock. Police arrested Hassemer’s boyfriend shortly after her death, but a judge found there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him and the case went cold.

Detectives continued to work the case for decades before turning up forensic evidence linking Laroche to the killing, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

He was arrested Thursday near his home in Turlock, in Stanislaus County. Records show Laroche is a registered sex offender, previously convicted of a sex crime with a minor under age 14.

Knowing her mother’s alleged killer is finally in custody felt “like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders,” Niya Frisby, Hassemer’s daughter, said last week.

“There’ll never be closure,” Frisby said. “All we can hope for is that he’s held accountable for his actions and that he doesn’t hurt another soul.”

Prosecutors said Hassemer’s family members were present at the courthouse and watching remotely at the hearing Monday.

Dudley, Laroche’s attorney, was still reviewing evidence in the case Monday and declined to comment further.