MERCED -- Two defendants accused of stabbing a 27-year-old man to death in Merced last year could be released from prison within five years, after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution Tuesday.
Francisco Ramirez, 31, and Sergio Martinez, 34, were arrested in last year's May 1 stabbing death of Richard Nascimento. Attorneys said the stabbing happened during a melee between two groups of people, sparked after a 27-year-old man named Dino Vargas urinated from an upper apartment balcony onto the neighbor's patio below.
Ramirez and Martinez on Tuesday pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter for killing Nascimento and assault with a deadly weapon for stabbing Vargas. As part of the plea agreement, both men will be sentenced to seven years in prison. They will be eligible for parole once they've served 85 percent of their sentences -- which means they could be released in five years.
Before Tuesday's hearing, both men had been charged with murder.
Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said both defendants will have two strikes on their record. "A killing that arises out of a sudden quarrel like this is manslaughter, not murder," Goold wrote in an email.
The fight between the two groups included knives and baseball bats, and was reported in the first block of West 19th Street. Police found the suspects covered in blood after they were seen driving away from a nearby alleyway.
A third suspect in the case, Aaron Fisher, 32, pleaded no contest to an accessory charge earlier this year and was released with credit for time served.
Tom Pfeiff, Ramirez's attorney, said the deal was fair, particularly because the combat was mutual. Pfeiff said Vargas was drunk when he urinated onto Fisher's patio. Words were then exchanged. "And then friends got involved and it turned into a big brawl," Pfeiff said.
Pfeiff also said his client was hit in the head with a baseball bat and was defending himself. Had the case gone to trial, Pfeiff said both men could have faced life in prison if convicted by a jury. "There's no guarantees about what a jury is going to do, and it seemed like (the plea agreement) was the right decision," Pfeiff said. "It's not perfect for anybody, but it's better than taking a chance at life in prison."
William Davis, Martinez's attorney, said the prosecution wouldn't have made the offer unless there were "major self-defense" elements in the case. Davis said his client felt the plea agreement was the best possible resolution for his family.
"It was an unfortunate circumstance where a bunch of testosterone-fueled people ended up in a fight where some young man lost his life," Davis said.
Ramirez and Martinez are scheduled to be formally sentenced by Judge Ronald Hansen on Aug. 14
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 3850-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.