Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2002

Gunman accepts plea bargain in Oliver shooting

January 17, 2002

Alfredo Arambula's mother asked her son to pray for God's forgiveness when she learned he had shot and killed a De Soto woman.

The mother, Maria Merno, said her son told her Juan Crutchfield forced him to shoot Melanie S. Oliver.

"He was under orders and under threats," Merno testified through a Spanish interpreter.

Merno's testimony came during the third day of Jesse Guardado's trial in Johnson County District Court.

Guardado, 19, Edwardsville, is Crutchfield's brother. He is charged with first-degree murder for his alleged participation in the slaying.

Arambula testified Wednesday that Juan Crutchfield approached him twice, asking him to kill Oliver.

Each time, Arambula refused to commit the killing. However, the second time he refused Crutchfield beat him and threatened his life, Arambula said. With that threat, he agreed to kill Oliver, Arambula testified.

Guardado allegedly gave Juan $20 to purchase ammunition and then drove his brother and Arambula to the house where Oliver was staying, according to testimony.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney John Jenab, Arambula said he thought about killing Juan Crutchfield several times en route to De Soto, but Crutchfield was armed with a handgun.

"I was scared," he said.

Arambula is the state's key witness. He made a plea bargain with the district attorney's office in exchange for his testimony, Assistant District Attorney Jacqie Spradling said.

Arambula will plead guilty to second-degree murder, and he faces up to 13 years in prison. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and faced a life sentence.

The defense maintains Jesse Guardado had no prior knowledge of the killing and didn't learn of it until Arambula and Crutchfield came back to the car after Oliver was shot.

Witnesses testified that Crutchfield wanted Oliver killed to prevent her from testifying about his kidnapping and assaulting her in August.

Aug. 18 Crutchfield knocked Oliver unconscious and then took her out of the Lakeview Heights duplex where he, his wife and children were living. He took her to Kansas City, Mo., and dropped her off in the Independence Avenue area.

Jaun Crutchfield thought Oliver was a bad influence on his wife, witnesses testified.

However, Oliver moved back to the duplex.

Arambula testified he entered the house the night of Sept. 4, and shot Oliver while she was sleeping. He said he shot toward her feet because he didn't want to kill her. The shot struck a main artery in Oliver's leg, causing her to bleed to death, according to testimony.

Contradicting the defense's opening argument, Arambula testified Jesse Guardado had prior knowledge of the killing.

"I believe he was in the same situation I was, sacred and frightened," Arambula said.

The state rested its case Wednesday before noon, with the defense expected to end its portion of the case in the afternoon. The jury is expected to return late Wednesday or early Thursday.

With Arambula's agreement to testify against Guardado and Crutchfield, prosecutors have now charged Crutchfield with first-degree murder in addition to kidnapping and assualt. A trial date has not been set in his case.

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