SALINAS, Calif. (KION-TV)- UPDATE ON NOV. 15, 2023- The Monterey County District Attorney's announced that two cousins accused of killing a Salinas couple in their car will be going to trial for their murders.
On Wednesday morning, Gonzalo Echeverria and Jose Echeverria had their trial date set for May 20, 2024.
They are both charged with two counts of murder for allegedly shooting and killing Jesus Arias Villa, 22 and his girlfriend, Karina Chavez Vargas while they were sitting in Jesus's car across the street from Closter Park on Feb. 5, 2022.
Salinas Police said that this was a case of mistaken identity.
Trial date set for cousins accused of killing Salinas couple over mistaken identity
April 12, 2023, at 3:30 p.m.- Two cousins accused of killing a Salinas couple sitting in their car on Feb. 5 in 2022 on Towt Street will be going to trial for their murders, said the Monterey County District Attorney's Office.
Gonzalo Echeverria and Jose Echeverria had their jury trial date set for August 14 in a Salinas courtroom during a court date on Wednesday.
They are both charged with two counts of murder for allegedly fatally shooting Jesus Arias Villa, 22 and his girlfriend, Karina Chavez Vargas, 23, while they were sitting in Jesus' car, according to Salinas Police. Salinas Police said this was a case of mistaken identity.
There will be additional court dates on June 21 and August 9 to confirm the jury trial date on August 14.
Cousins accused of killing Salinas couple will not receive death penalty
SALINAS, Calif. (KION-TV) August 17, 2022, at 2:30 p.m.- The two people accused of murdering a couple on Towt Street in Feb. made a court appearance in Salinas Wednesday.
Gonzalo Echeverria and Jose Echeverria will have their trial date set next week in a setting of a jury trial appearance. They are both charged with two counts of murder for allegedly fatally shooting Jesus Arias Villa, 22, and his girlfriend, Karina Chavez Vargas, 23, while they were sitting in Jesus' car, according to Salinas Police.
Salinas Police said this was a case of mistaken identity, and Jesus and Karina were not the intended targets. Both of the Echeverria cousins have gang ties, according to police.
Initially, the start of the jury trial was planned to be scheduled today in court for February. The defense couldn't agree on a start date.
The lack of a Spanish interpreter being provided to both suspects made it impossible for them to agree to a new start date for their trial knowingly.
The prosecution also added they would not seek the death penalty for either of the suspected murderers.
Both Echeverria's are scheduled for court next Wednesday.
Suspects accused of killing Salinas couple going to trial
UPDATE April 28, 2022, at 11:00 a.m- Two people suspected of murdering a Salinas couple in their car in early Feb. were held to answer on all counts they are charged with, according to the Monterey County District Attorney's Office.
Gonzalo Echeverria and Jose Echeverria were charged with the murder of Jesus Arias Villa, 22, and his girlfriend, Karina Chavez Vargas, 23, over what Salinas Police said was a case of mistaken identity.
The District Attorney's office said if the jury finds the special enhancement to be true, without a reasonable doubt, both Echeverria's could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The suspects will next be in court on May 20 at 10 a.m. for further arraignment.
UPDATE MARCH 9, 2022 at 1:18 p.m-- Two suspects that are being charged with the murder of a Salinas couple from early February were in court Wednesday.
Gonzalo Echeverria, 24, and Jose Echeverria, 34, will next be in court on April 15 at 10 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.
Salinas Police said a case of 'mistaken identity' led to the tragic killing of a young couple in early February.
Police said Jesus Arias Villa, 22, and his girlfriend, Karina Chavez Vargas, 23, were shot and killed while sitting in their car across from Closter Park on Feb. 5.
"They were a young couple in love with absolutely zero criminal history," said Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig.
After combing through 1,000 hours of surveillance video — police said they collected enough evidence to make two arrests for the double murder. Cousins Gonzalo Echeverria, 24, and Jose Echeverria, 34, were arrested earlier this week.
"We have two cowards that are in custody. But the reality is we lost two beautiful lives," said Salinas Police Chief Roberto Filice during a press conference Wednesday.
Police said at around 8 p.m., Jesus Arias Villa and Karina Chavez Vargas were sitting in a vehicle when two suspects approached and opened fire.
READ MORE: Two killed in shooting in Salinas identified
Gonzalo and Jose then got in a white Nissan Altima and drove off towards Grandhaven St.
Police said they had no leads and zero witnesses and had to locate surveillance video to identify the vehicle.
After searching through 1,000 hours of video from nearby homes and businesses, they identified the vehicle and served several warrants.
On Feb. 11, Salinas Police served three warrants and arrested Gonzalo on charges of being a felon in possession of ammo and for a parole violation.
Then on Feb. 14, they arrested and charged Gonzalo on two counts of murder.
Jose was located and arrested on Feb. 15 and also charged with two counts of murder.
"I'm glad justice is being served even though it won't give us Karina and Jesus back. I hope it gives us all some peace of mind knowing that the people responsible for this are not out there free and able to hurt more people," Karina's friend Maura Gonzalez Ramirez said. "We all knew that they were good people and had never done anything wrong and didn't deserve it at all. Now with the results of the investigation being that they were mistaken for wrong identity, the community can be even more certain that these were two innocent lives lost. Because a lot of people tried to said that Jesus was responsible, but all that knew him knew this wasn't the case."Karina's friend Maura Gonzalez Ramirez
"We're reminded yet again that innocent residents may become victims at any time by members of violent gangs. These kinds of horrific crimes affect the way we think, where we go, how we live, our lives and how we raise our children," said Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni.
Pacioni said Gonzalo was a convicted felon who was sentenced to jail in September of 2019 — but the parole board released him after serving just two years of an eight-year and four-month sentence.
"We objected to the parole release, but the parole board released him anyway. These murders are an example of the soft on crime laws that are being passed without thought or consideration for the impact on victims in our communities," said Pacioni.
He was convicted of being in possession of a loaded firearm by a gang member in a vehicle and assisting a gang member to escape from prison, according to Pacioni.
The reason for the D.A.'s objection was due to Gonzalo's gang ties. "What do you think a known gang member is going to do when released from prison? Get a job?" Monterey County Chief Assistant D.A. Berkely Brannon said.
"When a gang member goes to prison and gets out years early and kills two innocent people, unfortunately, it is not only unsurprising and outrageous, it clearly demonstrates we are on the wrong path in California," Pacioni added. "This is not something our local police, courts and prosecutors can fix. The people of this state must act.”
In a letter given to KION, seen above, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office protested the Board of Parole Hearings' decision to release Gonzalo.
KION reached out to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and received this statement in response:
"Echeverria was sentenced to CDCR on Sept. 27, 2019, from Monterey County to serve a five-year, eight-month sentence for carrying a loaded firearm in public and criminal gang activity as a second-striker. The sentencing court awarded Echeverria 625 days of pre-sentence credits awarded while awaiting trial, 17 days post-sentence credits awarded while awaiting transport to state prison, and 17 days of vested credits which are the corresponding Good Conduct Credits awarded for the days spent awaiting transfer to state prison (post-sentence credits). Under California law, Echeverria was eligible for day-for-day (50%) credit earning during his incarceration. Echeverria’s release date was identified as Sept. 30, 2021, but under emergency COVID-19 measures for eligible incarcerated persons with 180 days or left to serve, his release date was expedited to May 25, 2021. Echeverria’s sentence did not require a Board of Parole Hearings suitability hearing.California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Both suspects in this shooting are citizens of El Salvador. Salinas Police investigators said Gonzalo is a known and active gang member.
Both suspects had previously been deported back to El Salvador. Gonzalo was deported on June 18 of, 2021.
Police said there are no outstanding suspects left and no further threat to the community.
According to the court website, both Gonzalo and Jose entered not guilty pleas on Feb. 22 and are currently still being held at Monterey County Jail.