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Jury dismisses murder charges in Atwater killing

A Merced County jury dismissed murder charges Tuesday against Felix Calderon for a killing he committed in 2005, but found him guilty of lesser charges that could send him to prison for nearly 30 years.

Calderon, 31, appeared stoic after learning the 12-member jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting 21-year-old Joe Garavito during a fight outside a party in Atwater on March 5, 2005.

The alleged member of the “M Street” gang was found guilty on two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter for shooting two of Garavito’s friends, both of whom recovered from the incident.

The reading of the verdict elicited sobs from Calderon’s family, who sat behind him throughout the duration of the trial, which lasted for more than a week.

Calderon was initially facing first-degree murder charges — which could have resulted in a life sentence if he was convicted. With the reduced charges, Calderon likely faces a sentence between six and 29 years in prison, according to defense attorney William Davis.

Investigators believe the shooting happened after Garavito and several of his friends arrived at a party at 2162 Eucalyptus Ave. A 17-year-old friend of Garavito had called him for help, saying he had been jumped at a party. That fight allegedly started because the teen stepped on someone's shoes.

Prosecutors believe a fight happened between Garavito and Calderon in the front yard, which ended with Calderon shooting Garavito at point-blank range in the left side of his chest. Garavito then stumbled across the street, collapsed and drowned in his own blood. For more about this story, read Wednesday's Merced Sun-Star.