Plea deals could aid prosecution case in Salwasser murder trial

In a May 2014 file photo, a memorial to George Salwasser Jr. is seen where he was shot and killed.
In a May 2014 file photo, a memorial to George Salwasser Jr. is seen where he was shot and killed.

The prosecutor in the murder of west-side raisin farmer George Salwasser Jr. strengthened his case Thursday by offering plea agreements to two defendants, including one of the defendants who witnessed the killing.

Adrian Aceves, his girlfriend, Maria Mansanalez, her brother, Fabian Mansanalez, and Jose Canas are accused of killing Salwasser in May 2014. If convicted of murder, each faces a minimum of 50 years to life in prison. Their trial is expected to start next month.

Prosecutor William Lacy contends Aceves saw Canas fatally shoot Salwasser in an open field on the farmer’s property near Howard and Shields avenues, south of the tiny town of Biola.

In court Thursday, Lacy offered Aceves and Maria Mansanalez plea deals in exchange for testifying against Canas and Fabian Mansanalez. Both defendants accepted the offer.

Under the plea agreements, Aceves pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a stolen pickup truck. After he testifies in the trial, he will be sentenced to no more than 11 years and eight months in prison, defense attorney Ralph Avila said.

Maria Mansanalez pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the killing of Salwasser and to possession of a stolen pickup truck. She faces up to three years and eight months in prison, said her attorney, Linden Lindahl.

Outside court, Avila and Lindahl said Aceves and Maria Mansanalez accepted the plea agreements because they would have faced life behind bars if convicted of murder.

“Any time you put your future in the hands of a jury, the risks are too great,” Avila said.

Avila also said the plea agreement was a good move for the prosecution: “It almost ensures a conviction of the shooter, who is responsible for all of this mess.”

At a preliminary hearing in January, sheriff’s detective Mark Chapman testified about the events leading up to the May 8 slaying of Salwasser.

According to Chapman, Fabian Mansanalez had stolen a truck earlier that day. He then enlisted his sister’s boyfriend, Aceves, to help him sell the tires and rims on it.

Aceves called Canas and they arranged to meet in an isolated area at Howard and Shields avenues, Chapman testified.

Maria Mansanalez and Aceves drove to the area in an SUV and Fabian Mansanalez drove there in the stolen truck. Once there, Maria and Fabian Mansanalez left Aceves with Canas. The Mansanalez siblings then drove to a nearby store to get sodas and snacks.

While Canas and Aceves were stripping the truck, Salwasser pulled up.

Chapman testified Canas told him this:

Canas said he could see Salwasser had a gun in his left hand and a cell phone in his right hand. Once Salwasser got out of his truck, he told the two men not to move. When Aceves started to walk away, Salwasser told him to stop.

Once Salwasser took his attention off Canas, Canas pulled a .38-caliber revolver from his pants pocket and shot Salwasser two times, according to Chapman’s testimony. “He took responsibility for shooting Mr. Salwasser,” Chapman testified.

Canas and Aceves then ran from the scene.

Returning from the store, Maria and Fabian Mansanalez came upon Aceves on the roadway. He then jumped into the SUV.

Canas escaped by running through a vineyard.

A motorist saw the suspicious activity and followed the SUV, Chapman said.

About a mile and a half from the shooting scene, the SUV crashed into a vineyard at Shields and Vineland avenues, Chapman said.

Deputies found Aceves and Maria Mansanalez hiding beneath a bridge in a dry canal about a mile from the crash scene. Fabian Mansanalez and Canas were arrested the next day.

The gun used to kill Salwasser has not been found, Chapman testified.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts