The Fresno Police Department has made an arrest in a 10-year-old murder — the killing of 40-year-old man, whose nude body was discovered in his home on Glenn Avenue near downtown Dickey Playground in June 2005.
Police say Joseph Preston Shepherd, 45, has confessed to stabbing Andrew Lara Alvarez to death.
Shepherd, who also goes by Preston, will be arraigned on a murder charge in Fresno County Superior Court on Feb. 27.
Lt. Mark Salazar credited police homicide detective Bartlett Ledbetter with solving the case.
Shepherd was in a Kern County prison on a domestic violence conviction when Ledbetter learned DNA evidence allegedly linked him to the killing. Ledbetter interviewed Shepherd twice in prison and on the second try, he confessed, according to court records.
“The victim’s family is inviting him (Ledbetter) over for a lunch in his honor prior to the case being filed,” Salazar said Friday.
Salazar also credited Assistant District Attorney Jeff Dupras.
Since Shepherd was in prison, the murder case “could have easily been put on hold knowing the suspect wasn’t going anywhere,” Salazar said. Dupras, however, gave prosecutors the green light to file charges, Salazar said.
“He made the (President’s Day) holidays right for the victim’s family when they heard the news,” Salazar said.
Shepherd’s arrest also was special for the police department, Salazar said. Since it does not have a cold-case unit, detectives tackle unsolved murders when they aren’t investigating violent crimes or officer-involved shootings. “We haven’t done that for a while as we have been busy,” Salazar said.
Ledbetter’s affidavit filed in court with the criminal complaint spells out the evidence against Shepherd:
Around 7 p.m. June 30, 2005, police, responding to a 911 call found Alvarez’s decomposing body inside his home at 319 N. Glenn Ave. near Blackstone and Divisadero. An autopsy revealed he had been stabbed multiple times.
The examination also revealed that he had fought with his attacker, the affidavit says. Fingernail scrapings from the victim’s right hand were booked into evidence.
At the time, neighbors had seen Alvarez two or three days before police found his body. They told officers that Alvarez’s 2006 green Nissan Pathfinder was missing.
Police later found the SUV on the 100 block of North Calaveras Street — a block from the crime scene. Residents there told police the SUV belonged Shepherd.
When police questioned Shepherd, he told detectives that he had borrowed the SUV from Alvarez. When detectives asked him to take a polygraph, he invoked his right to remain silent. Shepherd was later released.
Two months after the killing, police sent the victim’s fingernail scrapings to the California Department of Justice laboratory in Fresno for DNA testing. It took eight years before police learned that the DNA from the fingernail scrapings matched Shepherd’s DNA. (Efforts to find out why testing took so long were unsuccessful Friday.)
To make sure of the DNA match, Ledbetter interviewed Shepherd last April at a state prison in Kern County. During the interview, Shepherd volunteered to give Ledbetter a buccal specimen, which was sent to the DOJ lab. (A buccal specimen refers to a swab of cheek cells inside the mouth.)
On May 10, the DOJ confirmed that the DNA found in the victim’s fingernail scrapings belonged to Shepherd, the affidavit says.
Ledbetter returned to the prison to interview Shepherd and read him his Miranda rights. Shepherd then confessed to killing the victim with a kitchen knife. “Shepherd claimed he became enraged when the decedent approached him in the nude and made unwanted sexual advances toward him,” the affidavit says.
Shepherd, whose criminal record includes convictions for drug possession, grand theft and robbery, was transferred from prison to the Fresno County Jail on Tuesday. He is being held without bail.