Man suspected of 2017 Lake Pyramid Lake murder pleads not guilty

Josue Salvadore Antonez.

A Newhall man suspected of the 2017 stabbing and killing of another man near Pyramid Lake entered a not guilty plea in federal court on Monday. 

The man, Salvador Rodriguez, 30, has been charged with one count of second-degree murder  within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. The reason for the modified charges in relation to the murder is due to where the body of the victim, Josue Salvador Pedraza Antunez, 29, of Newhall, was found. 

“He’s being charged federally because where the crime occurred is on U.S. Forestry land,” said Detective John O’Brien of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide unit at the time of Rodriguez’s arrest last year. 

Rodriguez was arrested in Nebraska where he was living and working since he was released on parole for another unrelated assault. He was then transported back to California by federal marshals. 

“We are the investigating agency on it, but because (the crime) was on federal land we filed it with the federal agency and it will be handled in federal court,” said O’Brien on Tuesday, a day after the arraignment. “He will remain in federal custody, but he is in Los Angeles.”

The delay in bringing forth the second-degree murder case against Rodriguez is accredited to custody delays and then issues with COVID-19 since earlier this year, which has made especially strict protocols necessary regarding custodial transfers, according to officials.

In a federal court indictment filed against Rodriguez in October, a charge that led to his eventual arrest a month later, the grand jury said Rodriguez should be held to answer for the July 8, 2017, stabbing murder.

Four hikers were exploring a shallow creek near Lake Pyramid on July 8, 2017, when they found Antunez’s body partially submerged in water and dense vegetation. Detectives say witnesses identified two people of interest: a 32-year-old man, also of Newhall; and Rodriguez, who lived in Newhall at the time and listed his occupation as dishwasher in arrest records.

Presiding U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled Rodriguez to be a flight risk and danger to the community, and therefore must remain in federal custody, according to Ciaran McEvoy, a public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of California. 

Under federal law, second-degree murder is punishable by a term of imprisonment up to life. 

A second man, Yenner Augusto Mendez, whose city of origin and connection to the case was not available Tuesday, was also charged in the same indictment for being an accessory after the fact. 

McEvoy said Tuesday the case remained sealed, and no further information was available. 

Rodriguez is scheduled to return to federal court for his next appearance on April 20. Mendez is scheduled for May 18.

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