A Desert Hot Springs resident was convicted of second- degree murder Thursday in the fatal shooting of a man who prosecutors say was killed in order to avenge the death of the defendant’s friend.
Orlando Archuleta, 28, is slated to be sentenced Jan. 2 for the March 2017 shooting death of 23-year- old Cathedral City resident Jose Gabriel Madrigal Vargas. Jurors deliberated for one day and acquitted Archuleta of a first-degree murder count, as well as a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a firearm in the killing, but found him guilty of second-degree murder Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors allege Archuleta believed Vargas was involved in the killing of 21-year-old Freddy Morales of Cathedral City, a friend of Archuleta’s who was found dead in the driveway of a home at 66219 Sixth St. Morales was killed two days prior to Vargas’ death.
Vargas was found dead at the scene after officers received multiple calls of shots fired about 8:30 p.m. March 29, 2017, and followed a blood trail to a house in the 66100 block of Sixth Street, just a few houses down from where Morales’ body was found.
Archuleta was hospitalized about an hour after the body’s discovery for treatment of a gunshot wound to his elbow, according to an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant. Prosecutors allege that DNA recovered from the Sixth Street home showed Archuleta was present during the shootout.
The prosecution’s trial brief states that when he was interviewed by officers, he initially said that he’d been shot at the River shopping center in Rancho Mirage, but was forced to change his story when no reports of a shooting at the mall could be corroborated.
He later said he was shot by an unknown assailant after visiting a memorial erected in Morales’ memory, according to the brief.
Police say Archuleta and others confronted Vargas at the Sixth Street home and shot him, and another person inside the home fired back at Archuleta, causing the gunshot wounds that landed him in the hospital, according to the declaration.
Archuleta’s attorney, James Silva, told jurors in his opening statement earlier this month that his client was at the home during the shooting, but only lied to police in order to distance himself from the incident. However, Silva said the evidence was inconclusive as to who shot Vargas or who fired first to precipitate the shootout that left Vargas dead and Archuleta wounded.
Archuleta was arrested on suspicion of committing a parole violation about a week after getting out of the hospital and later was charged with murder.