A career Fresno car thief was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison for setting off a chain of events that led to the 2014 killing of Biola raisin farmer George Salwasser Jr.
Fabian Mansanalez, 25, said nothing when his punishment was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
Afterward, defense lawyer Mark Siegel said Mansanalez told him he plans to change his life for the better.
“I really hope he learned a lesson. I really hope the case scared him straight,” Siegel said outside court. “Because bad things can happen with the lifestyle he has.”
Salwasser, 38, was killed around 6:15 p.m. on May 8, 2014, after he confronted Adrian Aceves and Jose Canas, who were stripping a stolen pickup truck on the farmer’s property near Howard and Shields avenues, south of the tiny town of Biola.
Though Mansanalez didn’t pulled the trigger, he was charged with murder because the prosecution contended he had stolen a truck earlier that day in Fresno and enlisted Aceves to help him sell the truck’s tires and rims to Canas.
If convicted of murder, Mansanalez would have faced 15 years to life in prison.
I really hope he learned a lesson. I really hope the case scared him straight.
Defense attorney Mark Siegel
During Mansanalez’s trial this summer, Siegel conceded his client was a car thief, but said Mansanalez had no clue Salwasser was going to be shot.
In fact, Mansanalez and his sister, Maria Mansanalez, were at a store a mile away, buying soda and snacks, when the killing happened, Siegel told the jury.
In September, the jury agreed with Siegel, finding Mansanalez not guilty of murder. Instead, the jury of eight men and four women found Mansanalez guilty of possession of a stolen vehicle and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Wednesday, Judge Hilary Chittick sentenced Mansanalez to six years in prison for possession of a stolen vehicle and being a felon in possession of a firearm and added one year after Mansanalez pleaded no contest in another criminal case involving felony possession of a stolen vehicle.
The seven-year prison sentence was eight months shy of the maximum sentence, Siegel said. Because of time served in jail, Mansanalez could be out of prison within three years, he said.
Prosecutor William Lacy declined to comment because the case is not fully resolved.
Prior to the trial, Maria Mansanalez, 23, and Aceves, 24, accepted plea agreements to testify against Fabian Mansanalez and Canas. Aceves pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and possession of the stolen pickup. He faces 11 years and eight months in prison. Maria Mansanalez pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the killing of Salwasser and possession of the stolen pickup. She faces up to three years and eight months in prison.
Maria Mansanalez and Aceves will be sentenced once they testify against Canas, whose trial is pending.
Salwasser was killed after learning a truck was being stripped on his property.
According to Lacy and Siegel, Salwasser pulled up to the crime scene in his pickup truck. He had a .380 Ruger in one hand and a cellphone in the other. He told Aceves and Canas he was calling authorities. When Aceves started to walk away, Salwasser told him to stop. Salwasser took his attention off Canas, who pulled a .38-caliber revolver from his pants pocket and shot Salwasser two times – in the neck and upper back, the lawyers said.
During the trial, jurors heard Salwasser’s 911 call in which he is shot while talking to a dispatch operator. He died four to seven minutes after being shot, Lacy told the jury.