An ex-con accused of gunning down a Menifee man during a drug-related robbery pleaded not guilty Thursday to first-degree murder and other charges.
Rodolfo Garcia, 36, was arrested in October following a Riverside County sheriff’s investigation. His alleged cohort, 34-year-old Jesus Ledesma Guzman, was killed in a gunfight with U.S. Marshals trying to arrest him in Northern California on Nov. 8.
Along with murder, Garcia is charged with shooting at an occupied dwelling, with sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the Feb. 5 slaying of 43-year-old Silvano Gutierrez Esteves.
Garcia was arraigned before Superior Court Judge Emma Smith, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Feb. 1 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
The defendant was being held without bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
According to sheriff’s Sgt. Walter Mendez, Esteves was at home in the 27700 block of Monroe Avenue when Garcia and Guzman allegedly stormed the residence shortly after midnight. A struggle ensued, during which the victim was fatally shot, investigators said.
Witnesses called 911, and deputies reached the location a short time later, at which point they found Esteves dead in the house and no sign of his attackers.
“Investigators located a large amount of marijuana on the property and believe the suspects targeted Esteves as a result,” Mendez said.
Detectives spent over six months on the case before ultimately identifying Garcia and Guzman as the alleged assailants.
Garcia was arrested without incident on Oct. 29 in Menifee.
Guzman was tracked down by federal agents in Inyo County, where they attempted to take him into custody for the Menifee murder, as well as killings in north Los Angeles County, according to Mendez.
He said that the defendant opened fire on the law enforcement officers, who returned fire and killed him. None of the lawmen were injured.
According to court records, Garcia has prior convictions for felony driving under the influence, auto theft and receiving stolen property.
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