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Arrest made in 11 year old homicide

Arrest made in 11 year old homicide

John Ruben Rivera, Jr.

POSTED July 3, 2009 5:26 p.m.

Merced County Sheriff’s detectives have arrested a Salinas Valley prison inmate for the 1998 killing of a Merced man.

John Ruben Rivera, Jr., AKA “Johnny Loco,” 42, was charged Monday with the shooting death of Ray Sabala in April 1998, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Sabala’s body was found face down in a shallow marsh at the wildlife refuge on east Sandy Mush Road in Merced County. He had been shot three times according to the autopsy report — once in the back and twice in the head.

“A relentless reexamination of the case by the Merced County Sheriff’s detectives, especially detective Chuck Hale, produced new evidence linking Rivera to the homicide,” said District Attorney Larry Morse II. Morse did not go into detail about what new evidence led to Rivera’s arrest.

Investigators believe an earlier dispute between Rivera and Sabala, possibly over counterfeit money, may have been the motive behind his death.
On the night of his murder, Sabala had joined Rivera and two other individuals in a drive to the wildlife refuge. All the parties involved had been using methamphetamine that night, according to the sheriff’s department.

Sabala’s body was found by wildlife refuge employees within 24 hours of his death.

Morse said investigators suspected Rivera from the outset, but no gun was recovered and no witnesses came forward to link him to the crime.
Rivera is currently serving a seven year prison sentence for felon in possession of a firearm and felony evading a peace officer. He was scheduled to be released from prison in December, Morse said.

“I cannot say enough about the work Detective Hale and the other members of the Merced County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit did in this case,” Morse said. “They simply would not let the investigation go and continued to develop new leads and information that finally convinced me we had enough evidence to charge Rivera.

“Detective Hale and I met with members of Ray Sabala’s family today to tell them of Rivera’s arrest,” Morse said. “Nothing will bring Ray back to the family that loved him, but we are hopeful that the family may finally see justice done.”
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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