A 19-year-old reputed gang member accused in the slaying of a man in Desert Hot Springs during a robbery pleaded not guilty Friday to a slate of charges.
Matthew James Gallegos of Desert Hot Springs was arraigned on murder and robbery charges, along with a count of participating in a criminal street gang and a gun-related charge that were included in an amended felony complaint.
He also denied 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 the death penalty if the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office opts to pursue it.
Gallegos originally pleaded not guilty to murder and robbery charges on Nov. 22; an amended complaint was filed on Dec. 5.
He is charged with shooting Marco Torres, 21, of Cathedral City, in the upper body during a Nov. 17 robbery in the 12200 block of Palm Drive.
Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao alleged during Gallegos’ initial court appearance that the victim had been attempting to “calm the situation down” after an accomplice of Gallegos stole a necklace from a separate robbery victim as Gallegos held that victim at gunpoint. “And the defendant at that point, in close range, shot him,” she alleged.
Patrol officers reached the location moments later. The victim died at the scene despite efforts by first responders to save him.
Detectives “quickly gathered investigative leads” that culminated in Gallegos’ arrest the following morning on Third Street, according to a police statement.
According to Paixao, members of the robbery team yelled out the name of a street gang that operates out of Desert Hot Springs multiple times during the crimes, and the defendant shouted a gang name while being taken into custody.
According to court records, Gallegos has an unresolved misdemeanor theft case pending, but he has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County. Paixao said Gallegos also has at least one misdemeanor conviction in Utah.
Gallegos is being held without bail at the Indio jail. He is scheduled to return to court for a felony settlement conference on Jan. 29.