A judge decided today that a 19-year-old man, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other charges in the shooting death of a woman found inside a car alongside Interstate 10 near Desert Center, will be allowed to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program in lieu of prison time.
Kyler Jeffrey Arnold, of Chandler, Arizona, pleaded guilty in March to involuntary manslaughter, along with drug and firearm charges, in connection with the death of Delores Baez-Meraz, 59, of Nogales, Mexico.
Sheriff's deputies found Baez-Meraz inside a vehicle on the shoulder of westbound Interstate 10, about two miles west of Eagle Mountain Road, last July
24. She was airlifted to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, where she was pronounced dead.
The shooting was described by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini as a negligent act, Arnold was not ``paying attention'' when holding a gun that discharged, killing Baez-Meraz, the judge said.
Investigators from the sheriff's Colorado River Station and Central Homicide Unit arrested Arnold the following morning on North Spring Street in Blythe. He was also convicted of bringing cocaine, marijuana and Xanax with him into the Blythe jail when he was booked.
Prosecutors recommended a four-year prison sentence, but Benjamini said that Arnold should be placed in the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for
State Prisoners, or RSAT, program. Assuming successful completion of the program, which focuses on developing inmates' cognitive, behavioral, social and vocational skills, as well as substance abuse treatment, he will be released on probation.
Arnold elected to address the court, telling Benjamini, ``You're not making the wrong decision. I'm ready to take responsibility for my actions.'' Arnold's upbringing was described as troubled and plagued with substance abuse problems, according to defense attorney Charles Roby and members of Arnold's family, who submitted several character letters to the court.
Benjamini said he took those statements into account when he recommended the RSAT program, saying he believed Arnold had ``not been given the tools at this point'' to make good life choices. He emphasized, however, that he was not ordering Arnold to take part in the program, and that his participation would
need to be voluntary.
``I can only hope that I'm making the right choice ... for society, making the right choice for the victim's family, and the right choice for you. Only time is going to tell,'' Benjamini told the defendant.
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