A preliminary hearing began Tuesday for a Stockton man accused of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old woman a year and a half ago.

Richard Potts, 28, is charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jessyca Arro, whose body was found June 17, 2006, floating in Windmill Cove west of Stockton. It was the day after her family and friends last saw the young mother alive.

The charges make Potts eligible for the death penalty if he is found guilty on all counts. Prosecutors have not said yet if they will seek the death penalty.

"I''''m relieved to finally be going ahead with the prelim," San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Valli Israels said outside of court. "This is a steppingstone before the trial."

Israels said the case has had to overcome repeated delays in order for the hearing to begin. Attorneys wrangled over evidence, it took time to get a courtroom, and inmates last month were quarantined due to illness at Tracy''''s Deuel Vocational Institution, where Potts is being held.

The hearing is expected to end Thursday, and San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Terrence Van Oss will decide then if Potts will stand trial before a jury. Potts remains in custody at Deuel.

Potts sat quietly during Tuesday''''s hearing, listening to the testimony of Arro''''s friends and Potts'''' former girlfriend.

Israels said in court that semen tied Potts to the case, but witnesses she called Monday to testify against Potts told the story of Arro''''s last day alive. No testimony about DNA was given Tuesday.

Samantha Altieri testified that Arro, a close friend, wanted to leave a small late-night party after feeling guilty for having sex with a man who was not her boyfriend. Nobody at the house could give her a ride home because they were drinking, Altieri said.

"She made it clear that she wanted to leave," said Altieri, who went to sleep. Arro was gone when Altieri woke the next morning. Arro apparently left on her own, Altieri said, adding that Arro never mentioned knowing any friends named Richard Potts.

Bridget Witbeck, Potts'''' former girlfriend, testified that in June 2006, she guided Potts in his Toyota Camry to a levee road west of Stockton where the couple could spend some time together smoking marijuana and having sex. Arro''''s body was found in nearby Windmill Cove.

The hearing is expected to continue today.