A 27-year-old suspect in last week's homicide at Atwater's Almond Tree restaurant was a parolee with an outstanding arrest warrant at the time of his arrest, court documents show.
Miguel Rivera faces first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Ryan Williams, 23, of Atwater during an altercation about midnight Oct. 26 at the 1490 Sycamore Ave. restaurant. Police also arrested 22-year-old Cindy Maciel in the homicide.
Rivera and Maciel are scheduled to appear Monday in Merced County Superior Court for their arraignment hearing.
Court records show that before his arrest in the homicide case, Rivera was convicted in March 2006 for robbery. He was also convicted in 2004 of receiving stolen property and drug charges.
A warrant for Rivera's arrest was issued after he was pulled over by an Atwater police officer March 21 during a traffic stop. After Rivera was asked by the officer to step out of the car, he ran and escaped, according to court records.
Police located a stolen .357 caliber Taurus Tracker handgun in the car Rivera was driving.
Rivera didn't turn up again until he was arrested in the Williams case last week.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said at least one witness saw the stabbing and others were present when the fight happened in the restaurant. "I believe we have sufficient evidence to go forward in this case," Nutt said,
Maciel is believed to be Rivera's girlfriend, Nutt said, and the suspects may have used gang slurs prior to the killing. "As far as I can tell, the victim had no gang ties at all," Nutt said.
Deputy Public Defender Caleb Hegland, Rivera's attorney, said he had a "productive" meeting with his client this week but that he's still reviewing the case. Hegland said he hasn't seen footage from surveillance cameras that has been logged as evidence.
"As of right now, all I have is the initial police reports. I am waiting for all of the evidence before making any sort of statement," Hegland said.
According to court reports, the surveillance camera scanning the restaurant was facing away from the fight when it started. But the camera captured Maciel exiting the rear door of the restaurant's bar.
Police reported finding a black folding knife in some bushes off the southwest corner of Sycamore Avenue, not far from the restaurant.
Possible gang motive?
Witnesses at the Almond Tree said the victim had been hanging out with some friends the night of the stabbing, when Rivera approached and asked whether they belonged to a gang, according to the police report.
The group of friends told Rivera they didn't belong to a gang, according to a witness. He became angered and started making hand gestures that appeared to be gang signs, the witness said. A fight then broke out between Rivera and the group. During the fight Williams and his friend Guadalupe Alvarez were stabbed. A bouncer who tried to break up the fight suffered a minor stab wound to his hand, according to police reports.
One witness reported seeing Rivera stabbing someone after the fight broke out. Another witness reported seeing Maciel picking up the knife and hiding it after it had been dropped.
Atwater police and the California Highway Patrol responded to the scene. Rivera and Maciel tried to run away, but were caught.
After he was stabbed, Williams went to a nearby gas station and asked the clerk for help. "Hide me, or they are going to kill me," he said, and the clerk allowed Williams to hide behind the counter, while she called police, according to police reports. Williams then collapsed on the floor. He later died.
Rivera refused to answer questions from police after his arrest, saying "I plead the Fifth."
Maciel told police that she had arrived alone at the restaurant and had been watching people dancing when a fight broke out. When asked by detectives why she ran from law enforcement, Maciel replied, "I always run from the police," but did not elaborate. She then declined further comment.
Both suspects remain at the Merced County Jail without bail.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.