Charge changed from murder to manslaughter before man confesses to shooting estate agent

A man pleaded guilty this week to shooting and killing his landlord in 2019 after he visited the property where he lived. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A man admitted Wednesday to shooting and killing his landlord when he visited his rental property in 2019. The admission plea came a day before prosecutors reduced murder charges to manslaughter.

The amended charges cite a Utah law that says a murder charge can be upgraded to manslaughter if it occurred “in the reasonable belief that the circumstances provided a legal justification or excuse.”

Several other charges were dismissed for Manuel Velasquez, as part of a plea deal, including two counts of firing a firearm and causing serious bodily harm, a first-degree felony ; obstruction of justice, a second degree felony; possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a second degree felony; and abuse or desecration of a body, a third-degree felony.

South Jordan real estate agent David Stokoe, 40, who had gone missing the previous day, was shot and killed on January 17, 2019, while visiting a rental property he owned where Velasquez lived. Stokoe was thought to be trying to discuss rent or evict tenants from the apartment at the time.

Stokoe’s body was found by police in the crawl space of the rental property the following day.

An autopsy showed Stokoe had been shot four times, three times in the back and once in the groin.

A sentencing hearing for Velasquez is scheduled for November 22.

Diana Yvette Hernandez, who was at the residence at the time of Stokoe’s death, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, in a related case. She was sentenced to one year in prison and three years probation, but was released from prison after about six months, and the felony was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor. Her probation also ended early.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers court and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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