GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Fredy Cabrera pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in Garfield District Court on Thursday morning, and a three-week jury trial has been set in the case beginning Sept. 22.
Asked at a court hearing by 9th District Judge Denise Lynch if it was his intention to plead not guilty and go to trial, as represented by his attorney Kathy Goudy, Cabrera replied with a simple “yes.”
Cabrera, 40, a restaurant owner from El Jebel, stands accused of premeditated first-degree murder in the shooting death of Douglas Menjivar, 21, shortly after 11 p.m. on July 31, 2013.
The shooting took place outside an apartment on County Road 154 just south of Glenwood Springs along the Roaring Fork River where Cabrera’s 18-year-old stepdaughter, Leydy Trejo, had just moved in with Menjivar.
Menjivar and Trejo had just arrived home that night when Cabrera confronted them in a dark walkway and allegedly shot Menjivar multiple times, according to evidence presented at a Feb. 24 preliminary hearing in the case.
Trejo was also seriously injured in the shooting when one of the bullets struck her in the lower right leg. Cabrera faces an additional charge of first-degree assault as a result of her injuries.
At the Thursday hearing, Judge Lynch set a trial to begin Sept. 22 and run through Oct. 10. A pre-trial motions hearing is also scheduled for July 15, and any new motions in the case are to be filed by May 9, according to an agreement between the 9th District Attorney’s office and defense attorneys in the case.
Goudy also received the judge’s permission to obtain independent testing of the handgun that was allegedly used in the shooting, including finger printing and DNA tests.
“That is kind of a crucial piece of evidence,” Goudy said after the hearing, adding that the independent testing that will be done at the expense of the defense would be in addition to testing done by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation as part of the initial criminal investigation.
The results of the CBI tests were not conclusive, Goudy said.
Goudy and fellow defense attorney Colleen Scissors argued during the preliminary hearing that the evidence pointed to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, saying there was not sufficient evidence that Cabrera had planned in advance to kill Menjivar and that there was an apparent physical struggle between the two when the shooting happened.
Trejo, a student at Basalt High School, in testimony given during the preliminary hearing, was hesitant at first to say for sure that it was her stepfather who confronted them and did the shooting, saying it was dark and she couldn’t tell for sure who it was.
Under questioning by Assistant 9th District Attorney Scott Turner, however, she indicated that she knew it was Cabrera who shot Menjivar. Prosecutors contend Cabrera shot the two because he was angry that Trejo was in a relationship with Menjivar, an El Salvadoran immigrant whom Cabrera had employed at his El Horizonte restaurant in Carbondale and another family business.
Another lingering question in the case is how Cabrera fled the scene and ended up in Grand Junction, where he turned himself into authorities the following day.
Charges were ultimately dropped by District Attorney Sherry Caloia against an alleged accomplice in the case, Josue Joya, who had admitted he drove Cabrera to the apartment the night of the shooting but said he left when he heard gunshots. Caloia said there was not enough evidence to continue with the charges against Joya.
During Cabrera’s preliminary hearing, there was witness testimony that Cabrera was seen near a waiting truck in the parking area outside the apartment buildings after the shooting. However, Cabrera’s cell phone was also found discarded near the river, on the other side of the buildings, according to evidence presented at the hearing.
Cabrera remains in the Garfield County Jail without bond while he awaits trial. If convicted, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Caloia has said she will not seek the death penalty in the case.