BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A blue pickup was the focal point of an investigation into the disappearance of a man whose body was later found in an almond orchard near Lamont, according to court documents.
It’s believed the April slaying of Edward Medina, 27, occurred following a dispute over a 2006 Ford F-150, the documents say. There are conflicting stories and confusing narratives contained in redacted police reports, but several things are clear.
One, Medina had an enclosed trailer that he swapped with a man — whose name is redacted in the documents– for the pickup.
Two, there were issues resulting from the exchange.
A witness told police the truck had problems and Medina wanted to return it. The man who made the swap with Medina told investigators he had concerns the trailer Medina gave him was stolen.
And three, multiple people identified Manuel Zamora, 36, and his brother, Fabian Villarreal, 41, as Medina’s killers. Witnesses to the killing said it happened in front of the home of the truck’s previous owner.
Villarreal in an interview with police admitted to helping get rid of the body, according to the filings.
Villarreal and Zamora are charged with first-degree murder and their next court hearing is set for July 12. The truck’s previous owner was not charged.
Medina was last seen April 7. Calls made to his phone went to voicemail and his truck wasn’t parked at home.
On April 9, his family began searching and found the pickup abandoned on a gravel shoulder in the 1700 block of East Planz Road, east of Cottonwood Road and south of East Brundage lane.
Medina’s mother said a family member opened the pickup’s driver’s side doors and she saw large spots of dried blood on the floorboards and back seat, the filings say.
Detectives were called and examined the pickup for evidence. There were two pools of blood inside, the documents say. The truck’s exterior had scratches, leaves in the front grille and several green almonds in its bed.
What Bakersfield police Detective Frank McIntyre saw left him uneasy.
“Based on my training and experience as a homicide investigator, I found both the blood in the vehicle and the scratches, leaves, and branches outside of the vehicle to be extremely concerning and indicative of (Medina) possibly being killed and disposed of in a rural area,” he wrote in the documents.
His hunch turned out to be right.
On April 12, Medina’s body was found in an orchard on the southwest corner of DiGiorgio and South Fairfax roads. He had a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Tire tread marks in the area matched that of the pickup, the filings say.
Police heard from witnesses who said Medina had been having issues with the pickup and with associates of the man who previously owned the truck.
One witness told detectives he and Medina went to the previous owner’s home April 7 to discuss the problems. When they arrived, Zamora approached them from a nearby home and said the man they were looking for was out, according to the filings.
The witness said he and Medina went to a nearby liquor store where Medina told him Zamora was one of the people who confronted him the day before about the truck, the documents say. The witness said he and Medina left the liquor store separately. He never heard from him again.
Investigators corroborated the witness’ statement through surveillance footage obtained from a business just west of the home of the truck’s previous owner, and from the liquor store.
The time stamp on the footage showed the men went to the liquor store shortly after 7 p.m.
Detectives contacted the Kern County Sheriff’s Office communication center to see if it received any calls reporting gunshots April 7 in the area where Medina and his friend had gone.
The center provided details of a shooting reported at about 7:10 p.m., according to the documents.
The caller was tracked down and told detectives she and a friend were driving west on East Casa Loma Drive when they saw a blue pickup parked in the middle of the roadway. She said two men approached the truck.
One of the men opened the driver’s side door and shot the driver at close range, she told detectives. Then he pulled the driver from the truck and threw him onto the roadway, where he and the other man kicked him.
The caller said both men got in the pickup and drove east, leaving the body in the roadway, according to the documents. She said she drove away and called 911.
She told detectives she drove back to the scene 10 minutes later but the body was gone. Police interviewed the caller’s passenger and she corroborated her story, according to the filings. The passenger said she believes the killers made a U-turn and picked up the body then left again.
They told police the shooting happened in the 300 block of East Casa Loma Drive — where the pickup’s previous owner lives.
Interviews conducted, arrests made
Police reviewed call records for the pickup’s previous owner and found he received several calls about an hour after Medina is believed to have been killed, according to the documents. One of the numbers was registered to Zamora, the filings say.
On May 7, detectives brought the previous owner and his wife in for questioning. They were interviewed separately.
The wife told detectives Zamora had called and said he shot and killed Medina and got rid of the gun and pickup. A few days after the shooting, she said, Villarreal went to her home and said he was involved in the shooting and helped Zamora load the body in the pickup.
The previous owner, in an interview investigators say had numerous inconsistencies, described the truck-for-trailer transaction he had with Medina, the documents say. He denied knowing anything about the shooting but acknowledged the truck was involved in the case and Medina had wanted to return it.
Investigators told him they contacted witnesses to the shooting who said it happened in the road outside his home and the suspects had come from his property.
“I told (the previous owner) it looked a certain way against him because Medina was killed over a truck that belonged to him, and he stated he knows this,” McIntyre, the detective, wrote in the documents.
The detectives told him his wife said the suspects called their home after the shooting. They said his phone records would show he spoke with the suspects. They told him they were trying to figure out if he sent the suspects to kill Medina, or if they acted on their own.
The previous owner conceded Zamora called him. He told detectives Zamora claimed he killed Medina in self-defense after Medina stopped the pickup in front of the home and pulled a gun on him.
Zamora said he fired before Medina could kill him, the previous owner said according to the documents. He said Zamora told him the gun had been tossed into a canal.
Detectives asked if he knew what happened to the body.
“(Zamora) just told me he dumped him,” the previous owner said according to the filings.
He told detectives Zamora wanted the truck for himself. He said he didn’t call police to report what Zamora said because he was scared.
Detectives obtained arrest warrants for Zamora and Villarreal and took them into custody May 20.
In an interview with police, Villarreal said nothing about Medina having a gun or his brother firing in self-defense, the filings say.
Instead, he told detectives Zamora immediately rushed Medina and shot and killed him. Call records from Zamora’s phone place him at the scene of the shooting, the documents say.
McIntyre noted in the documents there is nothing except Zamora’s statement to the previous owner to indicate the killing was in self-defense.
“It should be noted both witnesses to the shooting advised (Medina) had not pulled a firearm and the fact that Zamora opened the door and shot (Medina) at such close range contradicts the claim that (Medina) had pulled a gun on Zamora,” he wrote.