Defendant seeks to withdraw guilty plea in Chino Hills murder case

CHINO — A Chino Hills man who pleaded guilty last month to stabbing his girlfriend to death is now seeking to withdraw his plea.

Santiago Mauricio Morales-Garcia, 25, told a judge on Friday that when he struck the plea agreement, he believed he agreed to a prison sentence of 15 years, rather than the actual sentence of 15 years to life, said Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell.

“He said he was told it was just 15 years,” Mitchell said.

Morales-Garcia is charged with killing his girlfriend, 43-year-old Minerva Calzada, on Aug. 24, 2008 in the couple’s kitchen in the 4500 block of Bird Farm Road.

After he stabbed Calzada to death, Morales-Garcia stabbed himself several times in an attempt to kill himself, he told police following his arrest.

When Morales-Garcia appeared in Chino Superior Court on April 17 for a preliminary hearing, he agreed to plead guilty to murder as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

He was set to be sentenced on Friday, but sentencing was delayed pending a judge’s ruling on Morales-Garcia’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.

Mitchell said he opposes Morales-Garcia’s bid to withdraw his plea.

“My position is that he was adequately advised of his constitutional rights when the pled guilty, and he should be sentenced to 15 years to life,” Mitchell said.

At Friday’s hearing, the court appointed a new attorney to represent Morales-Garcia in his effort to withdraw his plea. A judge is scheduled to rule June 10 on Morales-Garcia’s motion, Mitchell said.

Neither Morales-Garcia’s new attorney or his original attorney has returned calls seeking comment today.

(4:42 UPDATE: Morales-Garcia’s new attorney, William Morales, called back a few minutes ago and declined to comment on the case.)

Calzada’s daughter told police that Morales-Garcia and Calzada were among a group of people who visited an El Monte nightclub the day of the killing.

The daughter, who lived with the couple, told police that the couple did not appear to be arguing or fighting at the nightclub. The couple left the nightclub before the daughter did, the daughter told police.

At about 7 p.m., some of the couple’s neighbors began hearing loud noises and screams coming from the couple’s home, they told police.

After his arrest, Morales-Garcia told police that Calzada first stabbed him with a knife in the couple’s kitchen.

He said he retaliated by punching her several times. Calzada fell to the ground, and Morales-Garcia kicked her in the head and stabbed her repeatedly, he told police.

Morales-Garcia then turned the knife on himself, suffering a total of 27 stab wounds during the incident, according to a police report.

Calzada’s daughter discovered the couple lying on the kitchen floor when she returned home from the nightclub at about 8 p.m., she told police.

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