One of five men charged with murder in the 2008 shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in Cypress Park pleaded no contest Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter, authorities said.
Arnoldo Pineda agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify in the case in exchange for a sentence of 14 years in prison, said Deputy Dist. Atty. John Colello.
Colello said that Pineda, 29, drove the vehicle that was used in the shooting of Deputy Juan Abel Escalante but that investigators believe he was forced to drive at gunpoint.
Pineda's attorney, Pierpont M. Laidley, said his client had met some of the other defendants at a wedding the day before the shooting. He had continued partying with them into the night when someone suggested they take part in a drive-by shooting, Laidley said.
Pineda objected, the defense lawyer said, but one of the men, an alleged Avenues gang member, pointed a gun at him and ordered him to drive them to Cypress Park so that they could find a rival gang member to shoot.
Laidley said his client, a cable television repairman who was not in a gang, drove the men to and from the shooting against his will.
"He was scared," Laidley said. "He did not intend that a drive-by shooting occur, and he did not sanction what happened."
But under the law, defendants can be found guilty of murder even if they acted under duress, Laidley said.
Pineda is expected to testify at a preliminary hearing next week against two defendants, including the accused gunman, Carlos Javier Velasquez.
Colello said the men were hunting for a rival gang member when they saw Escalante outside his parents' home around 5:40 a.m.
"They found who they thought was a rival, and they killed him," the prosecutor said.
Escalante, 27, was shot several times as he was preparing to leave for work at Men's Central Jail, where he guarded some of the county's most dangerous inmates.