Convicted felon found guilty of beating man to death

MURRIETA – An ex-con who beat a homeless man to death with a rock at a Lake Elsinore transient camp was convicted today of second-degree murder.

Jason Lee Schmidt, 37, is expected to receive 31 years to life in prison when he is sentenced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Rushton on May 2.

A Murrieta jury deliberated about two and a half days before finding Schmidt guilty of the murder count, as well as a sentence-enhancing weapon allegation and resisting arrest for the June 2012 slaying of 58-year-old Leopoldo Navarrete.

According to sheriff’s investigators, the defendant and Navarrete were loosely associated through encounters at a homeless camp known as the ”Olive Groves,” off of Adelfa Street and Grand Avenue in the community of Lakeland Village.

In an interview with detectives, Schmidt admitted fatally beating Navarrete with a rock after becoming enraged when he mentioned having molested one of his own grandchildren. Relatives of the victim vehemently deny that he ever had inappropriate contact with a juvenile family member.

Deputy District Attorney Burke Strunsky wrote in a trial brief that Schmidt told a fellow cellmate that the killing was ”spur of the moment” and regrettable.

No one witnessed the June 14, 2012, attack, though several itinerants told authorities they encountered Schmidt in an agitated state that night, making self-incriminating statements, such as ”first kill of the year.”

Navarrete was reported missing by family members within a day of his disappearance. A month later, a man walking in the area of Akley and Gillette streets, about two blocks from the homeless encampment, stumbled upon Navarrete’s remains.

Based on video surveillance tape from a store where Navarrete and Schmidt were seen around the same time, as well as statements from witnesses, investigators on Aug. 20 served an arrest warrant on Schmidt, who was staying at a group home in the 22000 block of Herbert Street in Good Hope. According to sheriff’s officials, the defendant took off running but was quickly apprehended.

According to court records, Schmidt has multiple prior felony convictions, including for drug-dealing, burglary and attempted burglary.

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