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Manslaughter trial begins for son-in-law of former Merced police chief

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Witnesses on Thursday described a deadly scuffle at a comedy show four years ago in downtown Merced as a “mosh pit with fists flying.”

Comedian Ralphie May’s performance came to an abrupt end when the fighting started on the night of March 21, 2014. Witnesses described drunken fighting in the audience, bloodied faces, and at least one person was taken to the hospital.

That person, later identified as 55-year-old Jack Kline, died about three weeks later. Police have said his death was the result of injuries suffered at the hands of then-36-year-old Jesse Saucedo.

Saucedo is the son-in-law of former Merced Police Chief Norman Andrade, who was the chief at the time of the incident. His department also led the investigation and Andrade recused himself from any official role in the probe, according to police.

Saucedo has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The trial began this week before Judge Ronald W. Hansen in Merced County Superior Court.

According to Merced police, Saucedo was involved in a fight with Kline around 9:20 p.m. at the Merced Theatre. Kline and Saucedo started arguing during the show when one group of people asked the other to quiet down. Detectives believe the confrontation escalated and punches were thrown.

Witness Monica Lugo said she couldn’t see exactly what happened from where she was seated because so many people were standing up. She said she heard someone say something to the effect of “leave him alone” or “leave that man alone,” before speaking about Kline’s heart condition.

She said during testimony she didn’t know the people involved but saw a man with blood on his face and a woman bleeding from her head.

James Kanabay Jr., a witness who had known the Klines for several years, saw their injuries in the lobby shortly after the show ended. He said Kline seemed OK at first.

“I started to notice he was sweating profusely, his words were starting to slur and he was having a difficult time communicating with me,” he said during testimony.

He and others had to “almost carry” Kline to a truck before they drove him to Mercy Medical Center, he said. Kline was transported to a Modesto hospital from there that night and died April 9, according to investigators.

It was unclear if the Klines had been drinking alcohol before or during the show, Kanabay said. Police have said they believe both the Klines and people with Saucedo’s party had been drinking.

Police have previously said Kline acknowledged there had been a fight, and said Saucedo had struck him six times. An ambulance arrived and treated Kline’s wife for a cut to her face, but Kline was not taken to the hospital by emergency responders.

Police said Saucedo told officers that Kline made an aggressive movement toward him during the incident between the two groups, and he punched Kline twice in the face.

Police have said Andrade removed himself from the investigation and did not participate in or oversee any of the personnel involved. When asked whether Merced police considered handing the investigation to another agency due to the defendant’s ties to the police chief, Sgt. Scott Skinner said the department did not feel there was a conflict of interest in investigating the matter.

The trial is expected to resume Friday, according to court records.

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