Man charged with murder in Coachella returns to court

Preliminary hearing set for Walter Cuevas Gastelum

INDIO, Calif. - A man recently extradited from Mexico to the Coachella Valley, where he is accused of killing his housemate a decade ago, was ordered Monday to be in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.

Mexican national Walter Cuevas Gastelum, 29, is charged with murder and a sentence-enhancing gun-use allegation in the death of Manuel Ley, whose body
was found in their Coachella residence on Van Buren Street on April 12, 2004.

The hearing will determine if there is enough evidence for Gastelum's case to go to trial. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Authorities say Gastelum left the country shortly after Ley's death. He was apprehended on June 12, 2013, in Sonora, Mexico, on a murder warrant after district attorney's investigators gave Mexican authorities information about his possible whereabouts.

Gastelum fought extradition to the United States, but lost his battle on Dec. 30. Authorities picked him up in Mexico City on Friday and flew him to Los Angeles, then transported him to the county jail in Indio, according to Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall.

Hall said the day before Ley's body was found, Gastelum was at his aunt's home and allegedly told her that he killed someone at his uncle's ranch. He then allegedly took keys to his aunt's boyfriend's car without permission and fled in the vehicle, which was found in Mexico a few days later.

``It is believed, based on interviews done by homicide investigators after the murder, that there had been some sort of disagreement or argument between Gastelum and the victim, after which Gastelum shot and killed Ley,'' Hall said.

He said investigators believe the murder weapon was a shotgun. Ley, who was in his 30s, was shot in the chest and abdomen, according to a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant.

Investigators who went through the house where the two had been living concluded that Gastelum, who was from Tijuana, used the name ``Francisco Lopez'' so he could work in the U.S. and was in the country illegally.

When asked by authorities why Gastelum would have killed Ley, Gastelum's uncle said the two ``had a problem earlier in the day,'' according to the declaration.

``He said Walter and Manuel were talking by Walter's room near the doorway, and Walter was confronting Manuel about going into his room without permission. (Gastelum's uncle) had told Manuel to be careful because Walter appeared to be upset. Later, (his uncle) heard that Walter had gone over to his aunt's covered in blood and took her car to get away,'' the declaration stated.

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