INDIO (CNS) – A 34-year-old man suspected in a July 2020 killing of a man whose body was found inside a burned vehicle in Thermal pleaded not guilty to felony charges Tuesday.
Ruben Corria Esquivel Jr. of Coachella was charged with one felony count each of murder, arson on a property, having a fire explosive and possessing ammunition in addition to two felony counts of being a convicted felon and narcotic addict in possession of a firearm, according to court records.
He also faces a sentence-enhancing allegation of discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury and a special-circumstance allegation of having more than one offense.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied the allegations Tuesday afternoon at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
Deputies responded at about 2 a.m. July 18, 2020, to a vehicle fire on Pierce Street near Airport Boulevard, according to Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ben Ramirez.
Ramirez said that after firefighters extinguished the blaze, the body of Luis Pinedo, 34, of Mecca, was found charred inside and homicide investigators were called to the scene.
Pinedo’s death was initially deemed suspicious by the sheriff’s department, which upgraded it to a homicide investigation July 20, 2020, after medical examiners discovered evidence of “homicidal violence,” Ramirez said.
“Arson investigators determined the fire to be asphalt and located a discernible fire pattern from a poured liquid on the asphalt, leading to the vehicle,” RSCD Master Investigator C. Mendoza wrote in a declaration in support of Esquivel’s arrest warrant. “At Autopsy, Pinedo was found to have sustained a single gunshot wound to the left side of the head and believed to be dead before being burned.”
The Riverside County coroner’s office was able to identify the body as that of Pinedo by using dental records, according to the department.
Esquivel was identified as the suspect in Pineda’s death last Tuesday, Ramirez said. He was identified through interviews, phone analysis, call records and social media records, according to Mendoza.
Esquivel was allegedly found with severe burns on his chest, face and arm the morning after being at the same ranch where Pinedo was visiting family the night of his murder.
Mendoza said that a review of the phones in his possession showed photos of his burned face and online searches for burned vehicles, dead bodies and homicides in Riverside County.
Esquivel is currently awaiting trial for a separate murder case in which he’s accused in the Feb. 21, 2020, shooting of a 42-year-old man in Indio. He was arrested July 24, 2020, and remains held at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on $1 million bail.
Esquivel has documented felony convictions in Riverside County that include attempted carjacking and parole violations, court records show.
Anyone with additional information about the case was urged to call sheriff’s Central Homicide Investigator Mendoza at 951-955-2777.
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