General Crime

Salinas Jury Convicts Fidel Rios Soto Who Fled to Mexico After 1997 Murder of Roommate Hilario Avila

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A man arrested last year after fleeing to Mexico following the murder of his Greenfield roommate in 1997 was convicted today of first degree murder and will face 35 years to life in prison, according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office. A jury in Superior Court in Salinas convicted 40-year-old Fidel Rios-Soto of murder with a sentence enhancement for using a firearm to kill his former roommate, Hilario Avila, Deputy District Attorney Sam Nong said. Rios-Soto will be sentenced at a hearing on January 22, when he will face 35 years to life, including a 10-year enhancement term for using a firearm in the commission of a murder that was proscribed by law in 1997 when the homicide occurred, Nong said.

On Aug. 30, 1997, Rios-Soto and Avila were drinking in the living room of the Greenfield apartment they shared with Rios-Soto’s live-in girl friend and two other men the 400 block of 10th Street, prosecutors said. Rios-Soto, his girlfriend and Avila got into an argument, after which the girlfriend left and Rios-Soto went into his room, picked up a .44 caliber rifle and returned to shoot Avila three times in the chest as the victim sat in a chair, Nong said.

Avila was pronounced dead after Greenfield police officers answered a 911 call to the apartment at about 8 p.m. that night. Rios-Soto and Avila had argued because “his girlfriend may have slept with the victim,” Nong said. The suspect fled immediately to Mexico, where he remained for at least 10 years, later claiming that he had returned to the United States three years ago to live in Seattle working as a landscaper and restaurant employee, Nong said. Last year, 16 years after the Avila’s murder, the California Highway Patrol pulled Rios-Soto over for a traffic offense in Glenn County in the north Central Valley about 50 miles west of Chico and found he had an outstanding arrest warrant for the murder, prosecutors said.

Officers searched his vehicle and recovered $23,000 in cash and a cache of illegal drugs and prosecutors suspect he was working for an illegal drug sales organization based in Mexico, according to Nong. The prosecution located one of the two male roommates who witnessed the shooting and testified at the trial, Nong said. Rios-Soto’s one-time girlfriend, who was undocumented, returned to Mexico in 2005 and could not be found, according to prosecutors.

The other male roommate, who was an older man, provided a statement to Greenfield police identifying Rios-Soto as the killer but he also disappeared. Because he was not available to testify, the district attorney’s office could not use it in court, prosecutors said. One reason why Rios-Soto was able to avoid detection in Washington state was that he reported a different birth date on identification he obtained there, Nong said.

The 10-year sentencing enhancement the jury added to Rios-Soto’s prison term for using a firearm, and the amount assigned by law in 1997, has been increased since then to 25 years, he said.

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