Closing statements are scheduled Monday in the murder trial of a Jurupa Valley man accused of 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.
After a week of testimony, the prosecution and defense rested on Wednesday, and Riverside County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gallon summoned both sides to the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta Thursday — without the jury — to finalize scheduling and iron out final instructions to the panel.
Closing arguments are expected to take up most of Monday.
According to the prosecution, 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 then-girlfriend’s residence in the 5200 block of Bain Street in Jurupa Valley.
Earlier in the day, Chaffino had informed Nielsen that Reynoso was romantically involved with the defendant’s ex-wife. 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 pulled a handgun on his cousin, according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon.
Nielsen’s girlfriend later told sheriff’s detectives that she heard at least one gunshot, Brandon wrote in his trial brief.
He said when she walked out of her bedroom, she saw “Michael 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 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, seeing Reynoso’s lifeless body. She then, once again, hid in her bedroom, according to the brief.
Prosecutors allege that Nielsen shot his cousin once in the stomach and once in the head and 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 and set aflame shortly after 3 a.m., according to the prosecution. It was quickly discovered, but almost no physical evidence could be recovered due to the condition of the body.
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 Chaffin, Brandon said.
By that time, Nielsen had allegedly fled to Phoenix, 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.
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 has a prior misdemeanor conviction for making criminal threats.
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