RIVERSIDE – Jury selection got under way today for the trial of a 19-year-old San Jacinto man accused of gunning down an up-and-coming boxer in what prosecutors believe was nothing more than a ”thrill kill.”
Manuel Edmundo Guzman could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder and gun and great bodily injury allegations, and jurors find true a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, in the May 30, 2011, slaying of 23-year-old Eddie Leal.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Donner assembled several panels of prospective jurors at his courtroom in the Riverside Hall of Justice this afternoon for screening as to their availability and qualifications.
Opening statements could begin as early as tomorrow afternoon, Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon told City News Service.
Guzman allegedly posed as a young ”attractive” woman on Facebook seeking male companionship, and was contacted by Leal.
”The only reasonable conclusion based on the evidence is that Mr. Guzman was doing this as part of a plan to engage in a thrill kill of whoever was successfully lured out,” DeLimon told CNS last August, when the defendant was held to answer to the charges.
”It doesn’t appear anybody else fell prey to the defendant, though there may have been prior attempts to ensnare others,” he said.
Around 2 a.m. on the day of the attack, Leal drove his Toyota sedan to the 1900 block of Roanoke Street, about 150 yards from Guzman’s family residence, according to sheriff’s investigators.
Shortly after arriving, the victim was shot multiple times in the back, according to authorities. Deputies arrived moments later to find Leal slumped over the wheel, dead.
DeLimon did not disclose how Guzman was identified. According to the prosecutor, during their investigation, detectives seized the defendant’s home computer and confirmed that he was the person who had established the bogus Facebook account on which he masqueraded as a young woman.
A search of Leal’s computer revealed he had been in contact with that fictitious person, DeLimon said.
Guzman was arrested April 10 following a nearly yearlong investigation.
Leal, a lifelong San Jacinto resident, was an avid boxer who had been trained by his father and had just begun fighting professionally as a bantamweight. The young man and his dad volunteered thousands of hours in their local Cops for Kids program, mentoring troubled youths and showing them alternatives to life on the street.
At the time of his arrest, Guzman was on probation for a juvenile conviction the previous year.
Guzman is being held without bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.