A man with ties to the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in prison for a 1991 revenge murder in a Yorba Linda orange grove.Paulino Olmos Gonzalez, 50, was in a Texas prison in 2014 when DNA evidence from a can of Budweiser linked him to the Nov. 3, 1991, killing of 50-year-old Salvador Murillo, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray said.
Jurors deliberated for about a day before convicting him of first-degree murder Jan. 22.
Gonzalez was driving, as he had often done, for a longtime friend as he conducted drug dealing business in the county on the day Murillo was killed, Murray said.
The friend — Fidel Mercado — was a top associate of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Murray said. Mercado died in a car crash in Mexico in 2008, the prosecutor said.
In the back seat of the car as Mercado made his rounds was the drug dealer’s “muscle,” known only as Chago, Murray said. Investigators have not been able to determine his identity.
Mercado believed that Murillo had stolen two kilograms of cocaine in a robbery several weeks before he was killed, Murray said. The lost drugs had a street value in 1991 of about $40,000 to $50,000, the prosecutor said.
As they were driving around Santa Ana, Mercado spotted Murillo and told Gonzalez to pull over, Murray said. Mercado got out of the car with his armed enforcer, grabbed Murillo and crammed him into the back of the small car, Murray said.
Fidel directed the defendant to drive to 18471 Bastanchury Road, where Gonzalez was told to turn the car around as Mercado and Chago led Murillo into the orange grove, Murray said.
During the car ride to Yorba Linda, Mercado asked Murillo why he robbed him, but the victim hung his head and did not respond, the prosecutor said.
Gonzalez eventually went looking for the others after he turned the car around and was met by Mercado and Chago, Murray said.
“Fidel … conveyed words to the defendant to the effect, ‘We did what we had to do,’ ” Murray said.
Gonzalez went back to Mercado’s home in Corona, where he drank beers with his childhood buddy from a small town in Mexico, and then spent the night, Murray said. Gonzalez continued being Mercado’s driver for the next few years, he said.
The discarded can of Budweiser had Gonzalez’s fingerprints and DNA on it, Murray said. Investigators also found a shell casing at the scene.
Investigators checked the genetic material on the can in 2007 and worked up a DNA profile, Murray said. Gonzalez was arrested after he spoke with investigators in May 2014.
“What convicted the defendant was his own statements” to investigators, Murray said.
Gonzalez told the investigators that he did not come forward to authorities with information about Murillo’s fate because crossing a drug dealer like Mercado led to deadly consequences, Murray said.
The prosecutor argued that logic contradicted the defendant’s claim that he thought his friend would order a beating for Murillo in the orange grove.
The defendant’s attorney, Joel Garson, told jurors that his client “killed nobody … Paulino Gonzalez did not help anybody kill anybody.”
Garson maintained that Gonzalez believed Mercado and his muscle would give the victim a “beatdown” as he drove them to Yorba Linda.
The defendant was acquainted with the victim, who had dated Gonzalez’s half-sister a few times, Garson said.
“My client was just driving, doing nothing but driving,” Garson said.
After Murillo was gunned down, his friend told him, “You saw nothing, you heard nothing, you know nothing,” Garson said, telling jurors that the three were not looking for Murillo the night he was killed. The encounter with him was “coincidence,” Garson said.
— City News Service
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