LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A key witness in a burglary case who vanished for three days _ leaving behind his dog and a bloody leash _ told Los Angeles police he was hiding after an attack by strangers, authorities said Saturday.

Darwin Vela, 22, had red marks, scrapes and bruises when he was found Friday afternoon two blocks from the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division station.

``He looked like he had been in a fight,'' Lt. Julian Melendez said.

Vela was last seen around 9 p.m. Tuesday when he took his 3-year-old chocolate Labrador, Koco, for a walk in South Los Angeles. He failed to appear in court Thursday in a burglary case involving Nicolas Cage's ex-girlfriend.

His fiancee, Kelly McLaren, said the dog later returned to their home, whimpering and with a smear of blood on its leash.

If the attack on Vela did take place, ``there's a strong possibility that it was tied to the court case,'' Melendez said.

Vela told detectives that he was on the walk when he was confronted by three men, got into a fight and managed to flee even though one pulled a gun.

``He ran from there and was so afraid he didn't return home,'' Melendez said. ``He has pretty much been walking the streets for the last three days.''

Vela was unable to give any description of the men except that they wore dark clothing and left in a dark car, Melendez said.

Vela told different versions of what happened during hours of questioning by detectives, Melendez said.

``You don't know what to believe, (but) we have to investigate,'' Melendez said. ``We don't have much to go on.''

Vela and his family are at an undisclosed location while detectives seek the men, he said.

Vela had been ordered to appear in court Thursday to testify at a preliminary hearing for Ricardo Orozco, a two-time convicted felon who has been charged with burglary and receiving stolen property. A judge ordered Orozco held for trial. He has two previous robbery convictions, and under California's ``three-strikes'' law could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors contend that Orozco broke into the home of Christina Fulton, the former girlfriend of Nicolas Cage, in August and stole a computer and other items.

During the court hearing, a police detective testified that sometime before the burglary, Orozco, Vela and McLaren met with an attorney who represents Charlie Sheen and claimed there was a sex tape involving the ``Anger Management'' star, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Sheen's attorney, Martin Singer, told the detective he wouldn't talk further to the trio because they hadn't produced the recording, Robison added.

At this point, ``there's no evidence a recording exists,'' Robison said.

Police were investigating whether the target of the home theft was the purported Sheen sex tape.

Posted by Amy King