Defendant pleads guilty to first-degree murder in Modesto stabbing

11/12/2013 1:48 PM

11/12/2013 5:53 PM

A defendant faces a long prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in the stabbing of a Modesto man last year. Prosecutors did not offer a plea deal to the defendant, who admitted his guilt despite his attorney’s objection.

Forrest Eric Heath, 32, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison, according to Deputy District Attorney John Baker, who prosecuted the case.

Heath stabbed 32-year-old Jimmy Espinoza Jr., according to authorities. The two men had been longtime friends. A passer-by discovered Espinoza’s body about 1:50 p.m. Sept. 12, 2012, in an alley just north of the Modesto Senior Citizens Center in the 200 block of Bodem Street.

The prosecutor said the judge scheduled the defendant to return to court Nov. 27 for his sentencing hearing, when the victim’s family will have an opportunity to speak in court. The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.

Without getting approval from his defense attorney, Heath tried to plead guilty and accept the maximum prison sentence during a hearing in August. At the time, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden said she could not accept his plea without knowing he fully understands what he’s doing.

In the August hearing, Heath told the judge, “I’d like to plea guilty, anyway. I’ll take the max.”

McFadden in August advised the defendant that entering such a plea probably wouldn’t be in his best interest because prosecutors had not offered him a deal. McFadden ordered a mental health evaluation for Heath.

Last month, the court reviewed a report on the defendant’s mental health and determined that Heath was mentally competent. His criminal case continued Tuesday with an arraignment hearing. Had he pleaded not guilty, the case would have been scheduled for trial.

Ernie Spokes, Heath’s defense attorney, told the judge Tuesday that he disagreed with his client’s decision to plead guilty to first-degree murder, but Heath was competent to make that decision, according to Baker.

The prosecution dropped an enhancement for using a knife in the crime, which would have added a year in prison to Heath’s sentence.

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