MURRIETA – A reputed gang member accused of gunning down a Temecula man in an unprovoked attack and then fleeing south of the border, where he hid out for more than five years, pleaded not guilty today to a murder charge.
Jose Carmelo Torres, 30, could face 50 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations in the 2008 death of 37-year-old Michael Montanez.
Torres appeared with his public defender before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Freer scheduled a May 12 felony settlement conference and ordered the defendant held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
Sheriff’s investigators allege Torres, who was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico on March 19, killed Montanez immediately after the victim returned to his residence on the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2008.
Montanez had spent part of the day with friends watching a football game at a bar, and had just parked outside the Sage Canyon Apartments at 42220 Moraga Road when Torres, an alleged Fallbrook gang member, allegedly pulled up to the location and accosted him.
Witnesses described a brief and seemingly uneventful exchange between the two men. But as Montanez turned to walk away, Torres allegedly pulled out a handgun and shot the victim in the upper body, then fled the location with several unidentified people.
According to the FBI, Torres headed to Tijuana, allegedly hiding out there while the investigation got underway.
Within two weeks of the shooting, the District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against him. In December 2011, he was federally charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, resulting in a warrant for his arrest.
The Inland Regional Apprehension Team, comprised of local and federal agents, initiated an investigation that culminated in his arrest in Tijuana last July, according to the FBI.
He was flown to LAX under guard and turned over to sheriff’s deputies at the airport, then transported to Riverside.
The federal charge is expected to be dismissed now that he’s in local custody.