A criminal trial began Monday for a Fresno man who is charged with murder in connection with the slaying of Biola-area raisin farmer George Salwasser Jr. last year, even though he wasn’t there when the fatal shots were fired.
In Fresno County Superior Court, defense attorney Mark Siegel said Fabian Mansanalez was not at or near the crime scene when Salwasser was fatally shot on his property in May 2014.
But prosecutor William Lacy contends Mansanalez should have known his actions of stealing a pickup and stripping it on Salwasser’s property would lead to Salwasser’s death.
In addition to murder, Mansanalez, 25, faces felony charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and burglary in connection with the stolen truck. If convicted of murder, he faces at least 15 years to life in prison.
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The trial in Judge Hilary Chittick’s courtroom is expected to take three weeks and will delve into an interesting legal issue called the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine.
In general, under the doctrine, an individual can be found guilty of murder if he or she assisted in a crime in which murder was a “natural and probable consequence” or likely to happen.
He will admit to stealing the truck and possession of a gun, but he had nothing to do with the murder
Fresno defense attorney Mark Siegel
Siegel said Monday the doctrine doesn’t apply to Mansanalez because he had no clue Salwasser was going to be shot.
“This will be an interesting appellate issue if he is convicted,” Siegel said outside court.
Mansanalez is basically a car thief with a minor criminal record, Siegel said. Court records say Mansanalez pleaded no contest in 2008 to a felony charge of buying or receiving a stolen vehicle or equipment. In August 2012, he pleaded no contest to battery causing serious bodily injury.
“He will admit to stealing the truck and possession of a gun, but he had nothing to do with the murder,” Siegel said.
As a rule, prosecutors don’t talk about pending cases. But a judge in November said Mansanalez was part of a conspiracy to strip the stolen pickup when Salwasser was killed. Then another judge in February ruled that it will be up to a jury to decide whether the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine applies to Mansanalez.
Salwasser, 38, was killed around 6:15 p.m. on May 8, 2014, after he confronted Adrian Aceves and Jose Canas stripping a stolen pickup in an open field near Howard and Shields avenues, south of the tiny town of Biola.
At a preliminary hearing in November, sheriff’s detective Mark Chapman testified Canas confessed to being the lone gunman who shot Salwasser in the neck.
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.
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 went to a nearby store to buy soda and snacks while Aceves and Canas stripped the pickup.
That’s when Salwasser pulled up in his pickup.
Chapman testified Canas told him that Salwasser had a gun in his left hand and a cellphone in his right hand. Once Salwasser got out of his truck, he told the two men not to move and that he was calling authorities. 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.
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.
Deputies arrested Aceves and Maria Mansanalez after the SUV crashed. Fabian Mansanalez and Canas were arrested the next day.
The gun used to kill Salwasser was not found, Chapman testified.
Siegel said Monday that the gun Fabian Mansanalez had in his possession was in his sister’s car and it belonged to Aceves. Once Mansanalez was arrested, he turned the gun over to authorities, who tested it and discovered it was not the murder weapon, Siegel said.
Maria Mansanalez, 23, and Aceves, 24, have accepted plea agreements to testify against Fabian Mansanalez and Canas. Because of legal issues, Canas, 33, will be tried at a later date.