Two ordered to stand trial for 2012 homicide case

Atwater police on Tuesday described the night Ryan Williams was killed in 2012 as chaotic, with people screaming and running away from the Almond Tree restaurant.

Williams, 23, died Oct. 26, 2012, after being stabbed during a brawl inside the bar and restaurant on Sycamore Avenue in Atwater. Investigators have said Williams was not involved in gangs, but Miguel Rivera, the man who is suspected of stabbing him, belonged to a criminal street gang in Winton, police said.

Rivera, 28, and co-defendant Cindy Maciel, 23, were ordered Tuesday to stand trial in Williams’ death after a preliminary hearing before Judge Marc A. Garcia in Merced Superior Court.

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges. Rivera also faces enhancements alleging gang involvement. Maciel has not been charged with any street gang connections, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office said.

If convicted, each defendant faces a potential sentence of life in prison, Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby confirmed.

A friend of Williams, Guadalupe Alvarez, also was stabbed during the fight but survived, police testified Tuesday.

Detective Anthony Cardoza testified that the two men were drinking with friends before the fight broke out.

“They were just having a good time at the bar, taking photographs for Facebook,” Cardoza testified.

At one point, a man approached Williams and Alvarez and accused them of being gang members, spit at them and tried to provoke a fight, police said.

Investigators said the man who provoked the violence was Rivera, whom they described as a known gang member.

Witnesses told investigators that Alvarez threw the first punch, Cardoza testified.

Police believe Rivera then pulled a knife and stabbed both men. Witnesses told police that a woman, who was later identified by investigators as Maciel, picked up the knife, carried it outside and threw it away in a nearby field, officers testified.

Police found the suspected murder weapon the next day. DNA from both victims was found on the knife, according to Detective Daniel Brum, lead investigator in the case.

Police found Williams lying facedown behind a cash register at a nearby convenience store, where he apparently went seeking help after the attack. He was taken to a Modesto hospital and later pronounced dead, officers said.

Maciel’s attorney, Carlos Fuentes, argued that she should not be charged with murder, saying there was no evidence presented that she attacked either man or had any intent to kill.

“There’s been some evidence (presented) of some involvement at the end, after the incident, but she was not involved in the fight and her DNA was not on the knife,” Fuentes told the judge.

Colby argued that Maciel tried to help Rivera conceal the suspected murder weapon.

“She aided and abetted an assault with a deadly weapon that turned into a murder,” Colby said.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor and denied the defense request to dismiss the murder charge against Maciel.

Both defendants were ordered to return to court Jan. 31 for arraignment.

Maciel remains in custody at Merced County jail in lieu of $2 million bail. Rivera’s bail is set at $2.5 million, according to jail records.