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Murder defendants both plead guilty, get 45-year jail sentences

Friday, November 25, 2011

(Photo)
Two men charged with the Oct. 25, 2010 murder of a co-worker have accepted plea agreements that will spare them possible death penalty sentences.

Jorge Pablo Gonzalez, 42, and Diego Handelin Villonueva, 20, faced capital murder charges in the shooting death of Jesus Cisnero Meza, who they worked with at the Seņor Carlos Restaurant in Salem.

The men were scheduled for trial in December, but both accepted plea agreements during the Tuesday, Nov. 22 session of Fulton Circuit Court.

Gonzalez appeared before Judge Tim Weaver first, with his attorney Patrick Benca, a Little Rock attorney who specializes in representing defendants facing the death penalty.

In looking at a proposed plea agreement, Judge Weaver noted that Gonzalez, who had faced a charge of Capital Murder, was pleading guilty to Murder in the Second Degree.

Under the agreement, Gonzalez would be sentenced to 45-years in prison and accept a $25,000 fine.

While the maximum sentence for Murder in the Second Degree is 25 years, an extra 20 years was added to the sentence because a gun was used in the murder.

Gonzalez indicated he understood the plea agreement, was waiving his right to a jury trial and voluntarily pleading guilty.

"Are you entering a plea of guilty because you are, in fact, guilty," asked Judge Weaver.

"Yes," Gonzalez replied, accepting the 45 year sentence.

Because Villoneuva is not fluent in English, the court had to wait for an interpreter to arrive before his case could be considered.

Villoneuva also pleaded guilty to Murder in the Second Degree and, like Gonzalez, was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

After saying, through an interpreter, that he voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial and was voluntarily pleading guilty, Judge Weaver accepted the plea agreement.

Gonzalez declined an opportunity to make a statement after entering his guilty plea.

When asked if he wanted to make a statement, Villoneuva made a reply to the court. His interpreter's translation was, "I am sorry for what I did."

Jesus Meza's family had the right to comment on the plea agreement, but prosecutor Dwayne Plumlee told the judge his office had lost contact with Meza's family, as relatives who were in the area have apparently returned to Mexico.

Gonzalez, who was a manager of the Seņor Carlos Restaurant, was accused of hiring Villoneuva, a dish washer, to kill Meza for $200.

Meza's body was found in the back of his truck, which had been abandoned off of Highway 9, south of Melbourne.

Gonzalez and Villoneuva were arrested after being questioned the day the body was found.

After their sentencing, they were taken back to the Izard County Detention Center, where they have been housed since their arrests, to await transfer to Department of Correction custody.



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