|Sister of murder suspect in court|
Blanca Bustamante's attorney, Victoria Thompson, asked the court if her client, who is being held on a $150,000 bond, could be released into the custody of pretrial release. Bustamante was charged with a single felony count of hindering prosecution.
|Another suspect in baseball bat murder|
Elsey Valenzuela, who is accused of involvement in last month's bludgeoning death of 33-year-old Kendal Smith, made her initial appearance in Yuma Justice Court Wednesday. Manuel Bustamante is still wanted for questioning in this incident.
|Baseball bat murder suspect in court|
Jonathon Roger Ochoa, who is accused of involvement in last month's bludgeoning death of 33-year-old Kendal Smith, made his initial appearance in Yuma Justice Court Wednesday.
|Conflict of interest in murder case|
Judge Stewart explains that one of the relatives of the man murdered in an attack with baseball bats was an employee of the Justice Center, the building where the courtrooms are located, so the case will need to be handled by a judge outside of Yuma.
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Suspects in baseball bat murder appear in court
Two people arrested in connection with the bludgeoning death of a Yuma man made their initial appearances in Yuma Justice Court Wednesday afternoon.
Justice of the Peace Greg Stewart informed both Jonathon Roger Ochoa and Elsey Valenzuela that they were being held on a combined 11 charges, including first-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, facilitation to commit murder, conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a criminal street gang. Ochoa was also being held on an additional charge of criminal liability.
Stewart also explained to Ochoa and Valenzuela that they would be returning to court Friday, at which time they would be told if criminal complaints had been filed against them, charging them with any or all of the offenses. The judge, at the request of prosecutors, also set each of their bonds as $1 million cash bonds.
Before calling their cases, however, Stewart said he wanted to address the court on a possible matter of conflict of interest. He explained that one of the murdered man's relatives was an employee of the Justice Center, the building where the courtrooms are located.
Stewart said that if criminal complaints are filed against the suspects, an outside judge would be asked to preside over them while they are adjudicated in the Yuma court system. He added that he did not believe it was necessary for his court to recuse itself, because the employee had limited contact with Yuma Justice Court.
Prosecutor Levi Gunderson, of the Yuma County Attorney's Office, in asking for the high bond amounts, told the court that the murder is believed to have been drug related and that the victim was not believed to have been involved, essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gunderson also stated that, prior to the murder, two people had stolen drugs from Valenzuela. She and the other suspects had been driving around looking for the two so they could take her drugs back.
Later, after the hearings, Capt. Eben Bratcher, a spokesman for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, said that Valenzuela had been arrested on unrelated charges on April 23, when search warrants were served at several homes while deputies were searching for a suspect named Manuel Bustamante.
Bratcher said as investigators continued to work the case, they developed information that Valenzuela allegedly had actively been involved in planning and carrying out the plan to get the drugs back.
According to YCSO, Valenzuela is Bustamante's girlfriend.
At about 9:13 p.m. April 18, deputies were dispatched to the 2500 block of 15th Place in reference to a disturbance involving six subjects armed with baseball bats.
Deputies were on scene in less than nine minutes, only to find Smith with blunt force trauma to the head. He was taken unconscious to Yuma Regional Medical Center and later transferred to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Phoenix, where he died.
All of the suspects had fled the scene before deputies arrived. A bloody baseball bat, however, was recovered in the area.
Bustamante has not been caught yet and sheriff investigators believe he has fled to Mexico. He is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall, 185 pounds, with a shaved head.
Anyone with information about this case or the location of Bustamante is asked to contact YCSO at 783-4427, or 78-CRIME to remain anonymous.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.