A 19-year-old Fresno man who was arrested last year after police investigated a social-media threat of a shooting at Bullard High School pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of vandalism of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in northwest Fresno.
In a plea agreement, Aaron Michael Nevarez was ordered to do 50 hours of community service. If he stays out of trouble for the next nine months, he will be able to withdraw his no-contest plea and have his case dismissed, which will allow him to fulfill his lifelong dream of joining the U.S. Marine Corps, said Fresno defense attorney Yan Erick Shrayberman, who represented Nevarez.
“From day one, he has never tried to absolve himself,” Shrayberman said after the hearing in Fresno County Superior Court. “He has always accepted responsibility.”
In act of penance, Nevarez already did his community service at St. Anthony, Shrayberman said.
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He credited the church pastor, the Rev. Monsignor Robert D. Wenzinger, with giving Nevarez a second chance.
“The monsignor wanted to help Aaron get his life back in order,” Shrayberman said.
The Bullard campus was rocked in September when a bomb threat and a threat of a shooting were widely discussed on Facebook and Twitter. After an intense police investigation, Nevarez and his 17-year-old brother were arrested Sept. 4.
At the time, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the 17-year-old felt alienated and posed a serious threat because he had access to firearms.
Dyer also said the two brothers admitted to leaving graffiti on a wall and a door at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, which is near both Bullard High and the Nevarez home.
Dyer added that Aaron Nevarez admitted to being a lookout when his brother allegedly vandalized a nearby Mormon church, climbing up a steeple to tag it. The chief said the 17-year-old also admitted to several other cases of vandalism, including at Baird Middle School.
Criminal proceedings against his brother were kept confidential because he is a minor.
The criminal complaint accused Aaron Nevarez of knowingly defacing St. Anthony's with paint and other liquids. If he had taken his case to trial, he would have faced up to a year in jail and a fine if he had been convicted.
Shrayberman said Tuesday his client wanted to enlist in the Marines before he got in trouble. He said Aaron Nevarez felt he had a duty to go with his younger brother to protect him because he was “acting out” over some family issues. .
In a show of support, Shrayberman had a stack of letters that put Aaron Nevarez in a good light. The letter writers included David and Alice Elliott of the Fresno Revival Fellowship and Pete Estrada, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War, Shrayberman said.