21 Aug 2014
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Vineyard Worker Pleads No Contest to Manslaughter in Trial for Cousin's Murder

DA pleased with outcome, as 2009 shooting complicated by no DNA on gun and possible self-defense argument.

Vineyard Worker Pleads No Contest to Manslaughter in Trial for Cousin's Murder
A former Mendocino County man on trial for the murder of his cousin, who was a fellow Cloverdale vineyard worker, pleaded no contest Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office.

Augustin Alvarez-Pena, 43, formerly of Potter Valley, was on trial for first-degree murder of Santos Alvarez, 24, and the use of a firearm.

He faced 50 years to life if convicted of murder and will be sentenced next month to nine years in prison as part of his plea.

A man who leases the Cooley Ranch property in Cloverdale to grow and sell grapes, Brett Domenichelli, saw Alvarez-Pena and Santos Alvarez arguing when he arrived at the property on Oct. 16, 2009, prosecutors said.

The argument was about a large amount of marijuana that was later found by law enforcement in a nearby building, the district attorney's office said.

The argument escalated and Santos Alvarez pushed Alvarez-Pena in the face. Alvarez-Pena pulled a handgun, moved toward Santos Alvarez and fired twice, striking the victim once, the district attorney's office said.

Domenichelli wrestled the gun from Alvarez-Pena and called police, and Santos Alvarez died at the scene, according to the prosecution.

Alvarez-Pena fled and was arrested four years later in Mexico. He was extradited and returned in September 2013 to stand trial.

Deputy District Attorney Jason Riehl said the prosecution continually evaluates evidence as it become available, and during the trial, it was learned neither Alvarez-Pena's or Domenichelli's DNA was on the trigger of the gun.

Riehl also said the prosecution anticipated attorney Keith Faulder might argue self-defense, and also considered the possibility the jury might convict Alvarez-Pena of voluntary manslaughter.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch also said the prosecution constantly evaluates the strength and weaknesses of a case, even during a trial.

"We are confident his plea and the stipulated prison sentence serve the interest of justice by holding the defendant accountable for the shooting death of Santos Alvarez," Ravitch said.

Alvarez-Pena must serve 85 percent of his nine year-term, or about 7 1/2 years. His sentencing is April 25.

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