Alleged driver in 2004 murder jailed in Pasco

PASCO — Nearly six years after a Pasco landlord was killed in a $250 rent dispute, the alleged getaway driver is behind bars on $100,000 bail.

Nestor Alejandro Rosales-Jimenez, 33, made his first appearance in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday. He was booked into the Franklin County jail about 19 hours earlier after being released from a California prison in an unrelated case.

Now, Rosales-Jimenez must answer to charges that he drove two suspects from the scene of the June 2004 death of Miguel Cortes. He will return to court Tuesday to enter a plea to first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

At Wednesday's short hearing, Rosales-Jimenez was eager to talk to his new court-appointed attorney, Karla Kane.

"I don't want to talk about it. I'd rather just talk to my attorney," Rosales-Jimenez said when Judge Bruce Spanner questioned him about the names on the no-contact orders. He spoke through court interpreter Rosie Arteaga.

And when asked about bail, he responded, "I'd like to be able to meet with the attorney so the attorney can advise me what to do."

Spanner told Rosales-Jimenez that he may have to wait until next week to talk with Kane.

Rosales-Jimenez was one of three men charged after Cortes was killed while trying to collect rent. Carlos Villanueva-Garcia and Sesar Seberin-Villanueva -- brothers who knew Cortes in Colima, Mexico -- were named as the assailants.

Villanueva-Garcia, 26, has already served a two-year, three-month sentence for second-degree manslaughter in the case. He was sent back to Mexico in 2007.

However, Seberin-Villanueva, 28, is still on the lam and was last known to be living in Mexico. He is wanted for second-degree murder.

Cortes was a 36-year-old carpenter and handyman. The brothers moved into his 1601 E. Lewis St. three-bedroom apartment, which Cortes shared with his longtime partner, Marielena Morales.

Then on June 10, 2004 -- just 10 days after opening his home to the men -- Cortes reminded the brothers that they owed him money.

Morales, in a statement later made at the American consulate in Guadalajara, said she'd been watching TV that evening and heard Cortes confront the men at the front door.

The men said they would pay Cortes outside, at which point Morales reportedly saw Villanueva-Garcia pull out a knife and make a stabbing motion toward Cortes' right side. Then Seberin-Villanueva allegedly shot Cortes several times.

The brothers then jumped into a white pickup driven by Rosales-Jimenez and fled, according to Morales and court documents.

When Pasco police arrived at 8:30 p.m., they found Morales outside next to Cortes' body. She reportedly had to move his head to avoid being run over by the fleeing truck.

Cortes died from several gunshots to the chest from a 9 mm handgun. The autopsy found no signs that he was stabbed.

Rosales-Jimenez, a friend of the brothers, was identified through the police investigation as the alleged driver. He was the registered owner of a white 1995 Ford truck, which was later found abandoned in Kennewick.

Some court documents show his last name spelled as Rosales-Jiminez. He signs his name Nestor Jimenez.

Detectives spoke with Rosales-Jimenez's live-in girlfriend and learned that his truck was frequently used by Villanueva-Garcia and Seberin-Villanueva. She told police that Rosales-Jimenez had been missing since Cortes was killed and didn't know his whereabouts, documents said.

Rosales-Jimenez now has a Southern California home in Perris.

Court records show that in December 2008, he was sentenced by a Riverside County Superior Court judge to three years for sales/possession. The conviction reportedly involved drugs.

While doing his time in San Luis Obispo, an out-of-state detainer was placed on Rosales-Jimenez by Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim. After his release, Rosales-Jimenez was taken to the Franklin County jail, arriving Tuesday night.

He told the court Wednesday that he had worked as a handyman in California.

Deputy Prosecutor Michelle McMillen requested that his bail remain at $100,000 since the charges stem from a murder and the alleged shooter has not yet been found. She also asked that Rosales-Jimenez be ordered to have no contact with Cortes' 16-year-old daughter and her mother.

Morales referred to herself as Cortes' common-law wife, even though the two never married and Washington does not recognize common-law marriages. The couple had been together for at least 10 years.

Morales was instrumental in leading Mexican police to the brothers. She was in Mexico burying Cortes shortly after his death when she decided to show authorities Tri-City Herald articles on the slaying with photos of the suspects.

Villanueva-Garcia was tracked down in early August 2004, arrested on a U.S. warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He was extradited to the United States in January 2007 along with 14 other fugitives, including four top drug cartel leaders.

Villanueva-Garcia was the first successful extradition for Franklin County prosecutors, who had long tried to get suspects back on American soil but failed until Mexico modified its extradition treaty.

Prosecutors lost contact with Morales, their sole witness, during the pretrial process and negotiated a deal with Villanueva-Garcia just a week before he was to face a jury.

Villanueva-Garcia, who was legally in the United States when Cortes was killed, entered a modified guilty plea to the reduced manslaughter charge. Since he'd done more than the maximum sentence while sitting in Mexico and Franklin County detention facilities, state Department of Corrections officials handed him over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As a part of the court agreement, he was then returned to the Mexican government to be a free man in his native country.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531;