INDIO (CNS) – A La Quinta man re-entered a not guilty plea to a murder charge stemming from the shooting death of a 20-year-old man whose body was found in the open desert of Desert Hot Springs.
Jose Manuel Angel Arellano, 23, initially pleaded not guilty to the murder ch arge Feb. 23, 2021.
At the end of a preliminary hearing on Feb. 6, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Edward Forstenzer ruled there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for him on the murder charge. Arellano re-entered a not guilty plea to the charge Thursday morning at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
Arellano is accused in the slaying of David Joaquin Murrieta of Desert Hot Springs, according to Sgt. Rick Espinoza of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. According to court records, 27-year-old Gabriel “Vago” Magdaleno is also accused in the case, but was charged separately from Arellano with murder and a sentence-enhancing allegation of discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury.
According to Espinoza, deputies from the Palm Desert sheriff’s station investigating a missing person case discovered human remains on Jan. 21, 2021, in the area of Mission Lakes Boulevard and Little Morongo Road.
Sheriff’s Detective Martin Alfaro testified in Arellano’s preliminary hearing that Murrieta’s body was found with three gunshot wounds — one entering from the back of his head, one from the left side of his head and one from the right side of his chin — in a shallow grave under a set of metal springs in the open desert.
Alfaro said Arellano drove from Tijuana, Mexico to the Palm Desert sheriff’s station on Feb. 17, 2021 to tell “his side of the story” and alleged that his friend, Magdaleno, was the one who shot Murrieta on Jan. 14, 2021.
According to Alfaro, Arellano said the trio were at Murrieta’s house before they all left in the defendant’s truck and drove toward Indio. At some point while Arellano was driving on Intestate 10 approaching Cook Street, Magdaleno and Murrieta began arguing, Alfaro testified.
Both men had guns in their hands during the argument, and Arellano said Magdaleno felt disrespected, according to a declaration in support of Magdaleno’s arrest warrant filed by Alfaro.
“Arellano told me that he saw Magdaleno shoot once at victim Murrieta in the back of the head and subsequently saw him shoot him two additional times after,” Alfaro testified Feb. 6.
The defendant then drove to the location, where they ended up burying Murrieta with a shovel that was in the back of the truck, Alfaro said.
Arellano subsequently went to a house on Sixth Street to get rid of his clothes by burning them before driving his truck to Mexico, he said.
According to inmate records, Magdaleno was arrested Dec. 13, 2022 and remains held at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on $1 million bail. A declaration in support of his arrest was filed by Alfaro on Aug. 18, 2022, according to court records.
Magdaleno pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery in 2014 in Riverside County.
Arellano remains held at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta on $1 million bail. He does not have any documented felony convictions in Riverside County.
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