You don't see this often in Orange County courthouses: a man who went in with a murder charge and later pleaded guilty left without being sent to state prison.
Technically, 37-year-old Jose Luis Sandoval was sentenced Friday to a year behind bars for helping a friend kill his wife, a state corrections officer, way back in 1998.
Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, under a plea deal that had him testifying for the prosecution in the case against the dead woman's husband Nuzzio Begaren, who was found guilty last month of murdering Elizabeth Wheat Begaren. The 52-year-old faces 25 years to life at his Dec. 6 sentencing.
After buying a $1 million life insurance policy on his new bride Elizabeth, Begaren recruited gang members to kill the corrections officer–who worked in the prison system's internal affairs division–and make it look like a robbery gone deadly. On Jan. 17, 1998, Begaren, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter by a previous relationship went to a Macy's in Burbank, where he had encouraged Elizabeth to carry $5,000 in cash in her purse. What she did not know was that was to be the payment to her killers.
Guillermo Espinoza and Jose Luis Sandoval followed the Begaren family's Kia Sportage in a 1985 Buick Regal and, around 11 p.m. off the 91 freeway in Anaheim, the Kia was forced off the road by the Buick. As Nuzzio Begaren huddled with his daughter in the back of the car, Elizabeth tried to run from the vehicle but was shot in the face and chest by Espinoza and died. The father and daughter were unharmed.
Espinoza remains at large.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.