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Motion over informant's identify could delay meth trial

The trial of five people arrested in a massive methamphetamine bust in March will probably be delayed.

The trial is scheduled to begin Monday, but attorneys on both sides said they expect a defense motion will delay its start.The five were arrested in a quiet Winton neighborhood on March 12 after a lengthy investigation by the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force.

Authorities said they found more than $400,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine inside the Arlene Drive home, as well as tools and chemicals used to cook methamphetamine, money counters and cash. Agents also recovered a handgun, officials said.

The five people arrested — Luis Murillo, Jose Marcos, Sonia Zavalas, Maria Quintero and Hector Ramos, all of whom are in their 20s or 30s — all lived in the house, authorities believe.

All except Zavalas face charges of manufacturing meth and possessing meth with the intent to sell it. Zavalas is charged with maintaining a residence where drugs are sold, as well as child endangerment.

Investigators found a 2-year-old boy inside the home, the son of Zavalas and Murillo, who was taken to a hospital after the bust and treated for exposure to toxic fumes.

An 11-year-old boy also lived at the home but wasn't there at the time of the raid.Murillo and Quintero also face child endangerment charges.

All five of the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Four are still in jail. One, Marcos, bailed out shortly after his arrest.

Though they will likely be tried together, each has a separate attorney. Only one of them, Leanna Rhodes, could be reached for comment.

She said she expects the trial to be delayed. Steven Slocum, the district attorney prosecuting the case, said the same thing.

Both said a defense motion asking the court to force investigators to reveal the identity of the informant agents used to obtain the search warrant will probably delay the trial.

"We're very confident in our case," Slocum said. "If there's no delay, we'll be ready to go Monday."

Rhodes declined to comment on the substance of the case, saying only that her client, Zavalas, faces the least serious charges. "She isn't being implicated in the meatiest part of the case," she said.

If they are convicted, Slocum said the defendants could face penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.