A 19-year-old gang member accused of gunning down a man in Desert Hot Springs was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder and robbery.
Matthew James Gallegos of Desert Hot Springs also faces two special circumstance allegations — killing for the benefit of a criminal street gang and killing during the course of a robbery — which could make him eligible for capital punishment if the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office decides to pursue it.
The defendant made his initial court appearance at the Larson Justice Center and was appointed a public defender by Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp, who scheduled Gallegos’ arraignment for Friday at the Indio courthouse.
The defendant, who is being held without bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, is accused of shooting the 21-year-old victim, identified by relatives as Marco Torres of Cathedral City, last weekend.
Prosecutors and Desert Hot Springs police allege that Gallegos and possibly two unnamed accomplices committed a robbery near Super Liquor Store in the 12200 block of Palm Drive shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday. During the holdup, the defendant allegedly shot Torres in the upper body.
Patrol officers reached the location moments later and found the young man mortally wounded. Despite efforts by first responders to save him, he died at the scene.
Detectives “quickly gathered investigative leads” that culminated in Gallegos’ arrest the following morning on Third Street, according to a police statement.
The shooting came six days after another man was shot to death about a half-mile away in the 66200 block of Estrella Avenue.
It was unclear whether there might be a connection between the two shootings.
According to court records, Gallegos has an unresolved misdemeanor theft case pending, but he has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.