Crime

Suspect's attempt to raise bail for friend led to killing of Nick Kauls, authorities say

Teamwork leads to arrest in Nick Kauls slaying

Law enforcement officials announced the arrest of Joseph Antonio Espinoza for the slaying of Memorial High's Nick Kauls. Sheriff Margaret Mims and Police Chief Jerry Dyer stressed they still need the public's help.
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Law enforcement officials announced the arrest of Joseph Antonio Espinoza for the slaying of Memorial High's Nick Kauls. Sheriff Margaret Mims and Police Chief Jerry Dyer stressed they still need the public's help.

Teenager Nick Kauls was shot and killed during a series of attempted robberies committed in order to raise bail money, authorities said Friday.

Kauls, 17 and a student at San Joaquin Memorial High School, was killed June 24 at Rialto and Van Ness avenues in Fig Garden when he and a friend ran from bandits in an SUV who demanded their property.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office identified Joseph Antonio Espinoza, 22, as the person who pulled the trigger during the botched robbery. Espinoza is in jail on suspicion of multiple charges that include murder, attempted murder and armed robbery.

Details on the killing were laid out at a news conference attended by Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

The deadly Sunday night shooting followed an arrest earlier that same day at the Motel 6 in the 6600 block of North Blackstone Avenue, said Dyer.

There, police checking a disturbance found Espinoza and his friend, Jose Figueroa, 18, and two women. Officers seized an SKS assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol at the motel after a search and Figueroa admitted the weapons were his, according to Dyer.

Figueroa was booked into jail. Espinoza was cited for possession of methamphetamine, but not taken to Fresno County Jail.

Footage of the June 26 arrest of Joseph Antonio Espinoza, 22, who allegedly shot and killed Nick Kauls, 17, during a series of attempted robberies.

Espinoza wanted to bail Figueroa out of jail but needed money, so he resorted to a string of robberies the night of Sunday, June 24, said Dyer. Near West and Ashlan avenues, the occupants of a white SUV fired shots and forced the victim off the road.

Near Blackstone and Gettysburg avenues, two restaurant workers were fired upon by occupants in a white SUV. One bullet hit the doorpost on their car. Dyer said there were three occupants in the suspect vehicle.

Then the occupants in the SUV came across Kauls and his friend. The friend managed to safely get inside a home.

Mims said both sheriff's and police detectives pored over surveillance video to help identify a white Toyota Highlander. Two days later, Espinoza was arrested after a white Highlander was spotted at a drive-through lane at a McDonald's near Shaw and Cedar avenues. Espinoza was at the wheel.

HEAT auto theft detectives learned the SUV was stolen and confronted Espinoza. . He attempted to escape by ramming a police vehicle and another car driven by a civilian before running. He was found hiding in a nearby dumpster and was taken into custody after he was bitten by a police dog, authorities said.

Detectives searched a house in the 3500 block of East Santa Ana Avenue after Espinoza's arrest and collected enough evidence to book him on charges in the Fig Garden shooting, the sheriff said.

Smittcamp, the district attorney, said the charges faced by Espinoza could result in life in prison or the death penalty. She did not say if she would seek the death penalty.

Commenting on the killing, Smittcamp said Nicholas Kauls "is the son of Fresno and the son of everybody and anybody's child."

Mims said authorities want help arresting anyone else involved in the crimes and urged witnesses to call Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867.

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