Jury selection was underway Tuesday for an alleged Atwater gang member charged with killing two teenagers at house party on Westside Boulevard over Easter weekend in 2013.
Jose L. Botello, 22, has pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with the deaths of 16-year-old Samantha Parreira and 19-year-old Matthew Fisher, who were gunned down March 30, 2013, in the backyard of a rural home outside Atwater.
Botello’s codefendant, 22-year-old Jose M. Carballido, changed his plea just last week after spending more than three years awaiting trial. Carballido, who was not armed and did not fire any weapon the night of the slayings, pleaded no contest to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and admitted being a gang member, according to Merced County court records.
During a preliminary hearing in June 2015, detectives with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office testified that Botello and Carballido were both members of an Atwater street gang. Deputies said both men went to the party and said multiple people from other rival gangs were also at the party. Investigators said Botello rushed toward Fisher in the backyard and opened fire, striking Fisher and Parreira, who was seated close to Fisher at the time of the shooting.
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Deputies have said that Carballido was next to Botello during the shooting. They said Carballido was possibly serving as a lookout for Botello during the violence. But Carballido’s attorney has said his client wasn’t even aware Botello was armed when they were at the party.
Carballido’s plea was entered Oct. 30 before Judge Ronald W. Hansen in Merced County Superior Court. His attorney, Robery Wynne, said Carballido “feels awful” about the slayings and “is willing to take his punishment.” Carballido will be sentenced to 22 years in state prison as a result of plea agreement.
“He’s just a kid himself and he’s very remorseful about the two kids who were killed and feels for their families,” Wynne told the Sun-Star.
Prior to the plea agreement, Carballido had been facing a potential sentence of life in prison without parole.
A third person also was killed at the same violent house party, but authorities have said the death of 18-year-old Bernabed Hernandez-Canela was unrelated to the slayings of Parreira and Fisher. Hernandez-Canela was shot and killed in the front yard of the home, apparently as multiple people fired guns and dozens of others were running for their lives.
Hernandez-Canela’s death received additional scrutiny in 2014 when Ethan Morse, son of Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II, was charged with murder in the case. Morse was accused of driving a getaway vehicle while his co-defendant, Jacob Tellez, was charged with shooting Hernandez-Canela.
Morse and Tellez, however, were later found innocent after a preliminary hearing. Morse has since filed a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office accusing them of wrongful prosecution.
The case against Botello and Carballido was turned over to the California Attorney General’s Office in 2014 as a result of Morse’s one-time involvement.
Dozens of people packed the courthouse hallway Tuesday afternoon as attorneys worked toward selecting a jury ahead of opening statements in Botello’s trial.
It’s unclear whether Carballido will testify in the case. His attorney said Carballido’s plea deal didn’t include any agreements to testify and said he didn’t know whether prosecutors intended to call him as a witness.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482