A former Riverside County sheriff's deputy allegedly involved in a love triangle with the girlfriend of a man he killed in a 2014 shooting pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Wednesday while the victim's girlfriend also appeared on charges of aiding or abetting his alleged killer.
Former Coachella Deputy Oscar Rodriguez, 36, was arrested last month following his indictment for the Jan. 27, 2014, shooting death of Luis Carlos Morin Jr., 39, outside the Coachella home of the victim's mother.
Prosecutors initially cleared Rodriguez of any wrongdoing, with the deputy claiming the shooting occurred during an attempted arrest. But a lawsuit filed against the county by Morin's family led to the discovery that the deputy was having an affair with Diana Perez, the mother of Morin's children, according to the District Attorney's Office.
"Based on additional information, we realized this was not an officer-involved shooting review, it was a murder investigation,'' reads a District Attorney's Office statement.
Rodriguez told investigators after the shooting that he had gone to the location to arrest Morin in connection with two outstanding felony warrants. He then claimed self-defense in the shooting, which took place outside Morin's mother's home on Camino Real, prosecutors said.
Morin's family alleged, however, that Rodriguez hid in bushes, attacked Morin from behind and shot him. Morin was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics 20 minutes later. The county last year reached a $7 million settlement with Morin's family.
The family's lawsuit led to a re-opening of the shooting investigation, with new evidence presented to a Riverside County grand jury, leading to the indictments. Rodriguez was placed on paid leave about a year after the lawsuit was filed, and he resigned from the department last year.
The same grand jury that indicted Rodriguez also indicted Perez, 39, on a charge of being an accessory to murder. She was arrested in Indio on Dec. 21, but was released on $10,000 bail, while Rodriguez has been out of custody since Dec. 29 since posting $1 million bail.
Further details on the charges are expected to be revealed in 10 days, when the grand jury transcripts are to be unsealed.
Rodriguez's attorney, Mark W. Fredrick, said his client has behaved as an innocent man would by remaining available to investigators despite knowing about the grand jury investigation. Fredrick told reporters outside the courthouse that he has not yet seen the new evidence that led to the indictments, but said that during Rodriguez's sheriff's department tenure, he was beloved by his fellow deputies, "highly respected,'' and served the sheriff's department with distinction.
Rodriguez faces life in prison if convicted, while Perez faces up to three years. The pair are due back in court March 21.
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