A Desert Hot Springs man is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday for gunning down a man in what prosecutors called a retaliation killing to avenge the death of the defendant’s friend.
Orlando Archuleta, 28, was convicted Nov. 29 of second-degree murder for the March 2017 shooting of 23-year-old Cathedral City resident Jose Gabriel Madrigal Vargas. Archuleta was charged with first-degree murder, but jurors convicted him of the lesser second-degree charge.
Prosecutors said Archuleta believed Vargas was involved in the killing of 21-year-old Freddy Morales of Cathedral City, a friend of Archuleta’s who was found dead in the driveway of a home at 66219 Sixth St. two days prior to Vargas’ death.
Vargas was found dead after officers received multiple calls of shots fired about 8:30 p.m. March 29, 2017. Officers followed a blood trail to a house in the 66100 block of Sixth Street, just a few houses away from where Morales’ body was found.
About an hour after Vargas’ body was discovered, Archuleta went to a hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to his elbow, according to an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant. Prosecutors said DNA recovered from the Sixth Street home showed Archuleta was present during the apparent shootout.
According to court papers, Archuleta initially told officers he had been shot at the River shopping center in Rancho Mirage, but he changed his story when no reports of a shooting at the mall could be corroborated.
He later said he was shot by an unknown assailant after visiting a memorial erected in Morales’ memory, according to the trial brief.
Police said Archuleta and others confronted Vargas at the Sixth Street home and shot him, and another person inside the home fired back at Archuleta, causing the gunshot wound that landed him in the hospital, according to the declaration.
Archuleta’s attorney, James Silva, told jurors in his opening statement during the trial that his client was at the home during the shooting, but only lied to police in order to distance himself from the crime.
Silva said the evidence was inconclusive as to who shot Vargas or who fired first to precipitate the shootout that left Vargas dead and Archuleta wounded.