Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice who is also known as "Lady Justice."
Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, who is also known as “Lady Justice.” Photo from Pixabay

Jury deliberations got underway Monday in the trial of a Jurupa Valley man accused of shooting his 40-year-old cousin because the victim was sleeping with his ex-wife, then setting the man’s remains on fire to cover up the crime.

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.

The prosecution and defense rested last week, and after both sides completed their closing statements early Monday afternoon, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gallon sent jurors behind closed doors to begin weighing evidence from the nearly two-week trial.

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 allegedly pulled a handgun on his cousin. Nielsen’s girlfriend later told sheriff’s detectives that she heard at least one gunshot, according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon.

When she walked out of her bedroom, she saw “Michael on the ground, obviously injured, but appeared to be alive,” Brandon wrote in his trial brief. “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 Brandon.

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. The body was placed in a mattress box spring, and then a door was screwed on top of the box spring.

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 charred condition of the body.

Two months later, Reynoso’s family reported him missing, and that’s when detectives pieced the case together, culminating in conversations with Nielsen’s girlfriend and Chaffino, according to Brandon.

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.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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