Three defendants accused of murder in Modesto park attack on homeless man enter pleas

Three men have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder in the beating of a homeless man at a Modesto park. Police officials say the defendants attacked the victim because they erroneously believed he was a sex offender.

Jace Decker, 63, of Modesto was critically injured in the assault at Garrison Park last month. Decker went into a coma and never regained consciousness. He died Aug. 21 at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

Matthew Arguello, Ruben Rosales and Samuel Cervantes are each charged with murder in connection with the attack on Decker. The three defendants appeared in Stanislaus Superior Court Wednesday.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has alleged that the defendants assaulted Decker for the benefit of the Norteños street gang, according to criminal complaints filed for each of the defendants.

Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson told the judge that the victim was beaten and kicked, and investigators have acquired video evidence in the homicide case.

Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden set the bail at $2.05 million for each of the defendants. She scheduled them to return to court Sept. 18 for a pretrial hearing.

The attack occurred Aug. 10 at the park along Carver Road, just north of Orangeburg Avenue. Decker was a transient man and known to frequent Garrison Park.

Modesto Police Department officials on Sept. 1 said Arguello and Rosales confronted Decker and attacked him “without warning.” They said Decker pleaded with his attackers to stop, just before he lost consciousness.

Eight days later, police officials announced that Cervantes had been arrested for his alleged involvement in the attack. They said in a news release that Cervantes was identified as one of the “three assailants” in the homicide case. Cervantes, 18, was taken into custody Monday morning at his high school, Elliott Alternative Education Center, in Modesto.

Arguello and Rosales allegedly believed Decker was a registered sex offender, but police officials said he wasn’t. Arguello and Rosales bludgeoned Decker without using any weapons, according to police.

Decker, who had head injuries, initially told police officers not to call an ambulance. Modesto police officials have said Decker was coherent and refused medical examination.

The officers took a report of the assault and left the park. They returned about an hour later after they received a report Decker was unconscious. Decker was then taken to the Modesto hospital, where he died 11 days later.

Arguello, 21, was the first of the three suspects identified in the case. Arguello was arrested several days after the attack. He initially was charged with attempted murder. But prosecutors on Wednesday morning filed an amended criminal complaint that included the murder charge.

Ruben Rosales, 25, was arrested Friday after he surrendered at the Modesto Police Department, a few days after detectives announced he was a suspect and asked the public to help find him.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.