MURRIETA – An ex-con who beat a homeless man to death at a Lake Elsinore-area transient camp was sentenced today to 31 years to life in prison.
Jason Lee Schmidt, 37, was convicted March 17 of second-degree murder with a sentence-enhancing weapon allegation in the 2012 slaying of 58-year-old Leopoldo Navarrete.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Rushton imposed the sentence required by law, factoring in the defendant’s prior felony strikes.
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.
Schmidt admitted fatally beating Navarrete with a rock, telling detectives that he flew into a rage when the victim disclosed that he’d molested a grandchild. Navarrete’s relatives vehemently denied 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 cell mate 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 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, 2012, 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.
Schmidt has multiple prior felony convictions, including for drug- dealing, burglary and attempted burglary.