A jury was seated Thursday, after which opening statements immediately got underway in the trial of a Jurupa Valley man accused of fatally shooting his 40-year-old cousin and setting his remains ablaze because the victim was sleeping with his ex-wife.
August Nielsen III, 39, is charged with first-degree murder and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the 2018 slaying of Michael Daniel Reynoso of Jurupa Valley.
Nielsen’s co-defendant, 25-year-old Adrian Daniel Chaffino of Riverside, is charged with being an accessory after the fact. He’s free on a $5,000 bond and is tentatively set to be tried in May.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gallon vetted dozens of prospective jurors this week at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta before swearing in a panel to hear evidence.
Testimony is expected to last about two weeks.
Nielsen, Reynoso and Chaffino worked together in construction, and on the night of May 7, 2018, Reynoso and Chaffino decided to stay with Nielsen at his girlfriend’s residence in the 5200 block of Bain Street in Jurupa Valley, according to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon.
Earlier in the day, Chaffino had informed Nielsen that Reynoso was romantically involved with the defendant’s ex-wife, whose identity was not disclosed. The prosecution alleges that Nielsen planned to confront his cousin about the relationship, over which he was incensed.
As the three men were talking in the living room of the Bain Street house, an argument erupted, and Nielsen allegedly pulled a handgun on his cousin. Nielsen’s then-girlfriend, whose identity also was not disclosed, later told sheriff’s detectives that she heard the commotion and at least one gunshot, Brandon wrote.
“She exited (her) bedroom and saw August and Adrian in the living room,” according to the brief. “Michael was on the ground, obviously injured, but appeared to be alive. She stated she did not want to be involved.”
The woman told detectives she retreated to her elderly mother’s room to assist her and then returned to bed, though she admitted going back into the living room in the predawn hours of May 8, 2018, and seeing Reynoso’s lifeless body. She then, once again, ducked back into her bedroom, fearing repercussions if she called 911, according to the brief.
Prosecutors allege that Nielsen shot his cousin once in the stomach and once in the head. He allegedly recruited Chaffino and three other men, whose identities have never been confirmed, to help dispose of the remains.
“Michael’s body was placed in a mattress box spring, and then a door was screwed on top of the box spring,” the brief states.
The body was taken to a deserted area near Clay Street and Van Buren Boulevard, a short distance from the Western Riverside County Animal Shelter, and set aflame shortly after 3 a.m., according to the prosecution.
Firefighters doused the blaze within a couple of minutes, and the charred remains were discovered. However, almost no physical evidence could be recovered due to the condition of the body.
Brandon said two months later, Reynoso’s family reported him missing, and that’s when detectives began putting the pieces together, culminating in conversations with Nielsen’s girlfriend and Chaffino.
By that time, Nielsen had allegedly fled to Phoenix, Arizona, and could not be questioned. However, following a search of his living quarters, blood evidence was obtained allegedly tying him to the crime, and an arrest warrant was issued based on that, as well as the statements of the witnesses, according to the brief.
The defendant was arrested in Avondale, Arizona, on Oct. 4, 2018. He’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
According to court records, Nielsen, who faces 50 years to life in state prison if convicted, has a prior misdemeanor conviction for making criminal threats.
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