By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
— Dustin Murilla told a judge he never meant to leave another man to die along a dark, wooded trail.
Then he agreed a jury could decide otherwise after hearing he used a tire iron to force boxer shorts down his victim’s throat.
Using an Alford plea, which allows someone to accept a plea offer from prosecutors without admitting guilt, Murilla pleaded guilty this week to attempted second-degree murder.
In exchange for his plea in Blue Earth County District Court, several other felony charges, including attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and assault were dismissed.
Murilla is facing 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in January.
Murilla admitted there was enough evidence to show he was with Joshua Jeno, an Owatonna man he had recently met in the Mankato area, and smoking methamphetamine on July 8. They were at Wildwood County Park when an argument started and Murilla assaulted Jeno with a flashlight.
He said he tied Jeno up and brought him to a secluded spot in South Bend Township because he didn’t want Jeno to call police. Murilla was already on probation for assaulting a man at a Mankato apartment complex in April and using a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to shoot at another man in a New Ulm park in September 2009. He was awaiting sentencing for the Mankato assault when he was arrested for the attempted murder charges.
Jeno told police Murilla drove him to a location known as the “Stone Cut” off Blue Earth County Road 69 and dragged him into the woods. Murilla beat Jeno with a tire iron and forced a pair of boxer shorts down his throat while he was hog tied, Jeno reported. When Jeno managed to spit the shorts out, Murilla used the tire iron to force them back down his throat.
At that point Jeno believed Murilla had left him for dead. He said Murilla returned and dropped a tire jack on his head after seeing him move. After Murilla eventually left, Jeno was able to get to the county road and get help from a passing motorist.
Murilla, who was driving Jeno’s car when he was arrested, said he wasn’t trying to kill Jeno. He said he had returned to the area with his girlfriend to get him, but he was already gone. During the plea hearing, Murilla acknowledged it would have been difficult for Jeno to breathe and a jury could conclude he was attempting to kill him.
A trial had been scheduled to start in February for Murilla. He had made a successful appeal to have District Court Judge Bradley Walker removed from the case after Walker had ruled it was too late to make a removal request.
The case was moved to Judge Krista Jass. Murilla’s attorney, Carrie Leone, had advised Jass that she was planning to use a defense saying Murilla was too intoxicated to attempt to kill Jeno. During the plea hearing, Murilla said he was never in a position where he didn’t know what he was doing during the July incident.
Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Steven Kelm had filed a request for an upward departure for sentencing if Murilla had been found guilty at trial. That could have resulted in a longer prison sentence than what is suggested by state sentencing guidelines.
“The victim was treated with particular cruelty,” Kelm’s request said. “This is the defendant’s third violent crime and he is a dangerous offender.”
The plea agreement said Kelm will request a prison sentence of 183 months, which is what the guidelines suggest. Leone will argue for a sentence on the lower end of the guidelines. With credit for good time in prison and time already served in jail, Murilla would likely be released from prison in about 10 years.
Murilla is also a suspect in an April stabbing in an alley off Grove Street, according to an affidavit requesting a search warrant for knife found when Murilla was arrested in July. No charges have been filed as a result of that incident.