An Indio resident convicted nearly three years ago of stabbing two men — one of them fatally — at a home in Thermal while searching for his daughter and ex-girlfriend was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in state prison.
Abel Arellano Jr., 28, was convicted in September 2017 of involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and spousal abuse.
Prosecutors said he stabbed the victims multiple times with a metal folding knife after breaking into a Middleton Street home, where his ex-girlfriend had been visiting friends. One of the men, Josue Aguilar, died at a nearby hospital following the attack.
The defendant was previously sentenced to more than 23 years in state prison for the crimes, until a multi-year legal battle led to a state appeals court finding that the state court could grant the defendant a new trial on the assault with a deadly weapon charge, according to John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors later dismissed that charge after opting not to seek another trial, Hall said.
At the latest sentencing hearing Tuesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Otis Sterling handed down the seven-year, four-month sentence, deciding not to take into account a prior felony the defendant was convicted of, as Sterling did during his initial sentencing decision. Sterling also said that he took into account certain aspects of Arellano’s background, including the fact his mother was a drug addict when he was growing up and his father died when Arellano was young, among other factors.
Hall said the D.A.’s office disagreed with the new sentence.
“Our office is exploring whether an appeal of the decision is viable,” Hall said. “Our office disagreed with the court’s sentence and argued that the previous sentence imposed be reinstated minus the two years for a total sentence of 21 years, four months.”
During the trial, Arellano’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan, argued that his client was attacked by the victims, as well as a woman, who assaulted Arellano with a baseball bat, leading him to respond with the knife to defend himself.
Arellano was initially charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder, but jurors acquitted him of both of those charges and found him guilty of the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter.
According to prosecutors, Arellano kicked in the front door of the home at about 4 p.m. on April 16, 2016, and struck his ex with a backhand blow, leading to a fight between him and the victims, who were stabbed during the ensuing scuffle.
Arellano surrendered at the sheriff’s Thermal station at about 9:30 that night, after the sheriff’s department circulated his photograph and asked the public for help in finding him.
Dolan argued during the trial that Arellano went to the home to find his 4-year-old daughter after her mother refused to tell him the girl’s whereabouts. After honking his horn and knocking on the door without a response, he became concerned that his daughter or her mother were being harmed, prompting him to kick down the door, Dolan said. The child was not at the home at the time.
After he struck his ex-girlfriend, the home’s three other occupants began punching and assaulting Arellano with a baseball bat, forcing him to curl up on the ground, according to Dolan, who also said someone in the house mentioned getting a gun.
“What would you have him do?” Dolan asked the jury. “Should he just let them beat him with a bat until he’s unconscious? Is that his only alternative?”
Deputy District Attorney Anthony Orlando contended that Arellano already had the knife out when the fight began, and said the home’s occupants had a right to defend the ex-girlfriend after she was struck.
“He can’t start something and then claim self-defense,” said Orlando, who argued that text messages threatening the ex-girlfriend showed Arellano was not simply there to find his daughter.
“He wasn’t there to reconcile a relationship,” Orlando told the jury. “He wasn’t there to get back his kid.”
Dolan said that following the stabbing, Arellano “did what you would expect an innocent person to do” by going to a neighbor’s home to try to get help, then turning himself in after learning that Aguilar had died. Dolan said Arellano was cooperative with investigators, pointing them to the location of the knife and his bloody clothes.
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