A 35-year-old Turlock man has been taken into custody on suspicion of shooting a 26-year-old man to death late Wednesday in Snelling.
Deputies say suspect Daniel Melo killed the victim with a small caliber gun in the 6000 block of Turlock Road, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.
The victim, identified as Agaton Gumanday III, was found dead in an orchard from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Deputies responded to the scene after receiving a call around 9:30 p.m. Because of the remote location and darkness, however, deputies taped off the area and waited until daylight to process the scene and gather evidence.
Melo, who called the police, was at the scene when deputies arrived and was questioned. He was taken into custody after being interviewed. MacKenzie wouldn't elaborate about a possible motive in the homicide.
Investigators haven't said whether the suspect and the victim knew each other. Those who knew the victim, however, said he and Melo were best friends.
Atwater resident Paul Freeman, 52, who lived with the victim and is the grandfather to his children, said it was hard for him to believe Melo would kill his friend, whom he loved. "It may have been an accident," Freeman said. "I don't believe Danny was responsible in a criminal way."
Freeman also said the victim had been despondent and had stopped taking medications for psychiatric problems before his death. Freeman said the victim was also known to be suicidal.
Jessica Freeman, the victim's 25-year-old girlfriend, said she and Gumanday had two children together and were expecting a son in September.
Freeman, who'd been in a relationship with the victim for five years, said she'd heard from the suspect's brother that Gumanday and Melo had been drinking Wednesday evening and had walked into the orchard to shoot guns.
Melo later returned and said he'd accidentally shot Gumanday, Freeman said she was told. "But the thing is, we don't know who was out there with them. I feel like the whole truth isn't being told," she said.
Freeman described Gumanday as an extremely caring man with a huge heart. She said he'd recently been accepted into a trade school to pursue a career as a heavy equipment operator and had a life ahead of him as a family man. "He loved his family and he loved his kids. He didn't deserve this," Freeman said.
Melo was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of murder. He's being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
The death is the 10th homicide reported in Merced County this year, according to the Merced County Coroner's Office.
Jessica Freeman said a memorial fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank to help pay for the funeral expenses. The fund is in the name of Jessica D. Freeman, account number 2859695336.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.