LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — With his trial set to start at 1 p.m., the man accused of injecting a woman with a pool cleaner and leaving her body in a container in the desert, appeared in court Monday morning to enter a plea deal.
Christopher Prestipino, 49, took what is known in legal parlance as an “Alford” plea, referring to a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case that allows defendants to plead guilty to a crime but maintain their innocence. That means he admits there is enough evidence to convict him but doesn’t admit guilt. It carries the same sentence as a guilty plea.
Prestipino and his co-defendant, Casandra Garrett, who Prestipino blamed the killing on, have now both pleaded guilty to killing Esmeralda Gonzales, 24, in 2019.
Prosecutors allege that Prestipino gave Gonzales methamphetamines, tied her up, and strangled her. Prestipino and Garrett, his roommate, are then accused of injecting Gonzales with the pool cleaner. Gonzales was later found in cement in a desert area.
Garrett remains in the Clark County Detention Center on a $500,000 bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28.
Prosecutors detailed the aftermath of the murder in court Monday, saying that Prestipino went to Home Depot to buy wood and cement, went to his place of work to get a pallet jack, and rented a truck. Police found Gonzales’s decomposing remains “many miles north” on Interstate 15, prosecutors said in court.
“My colleagues and I have spent the weekend yelling and screaming and fighting and we actually do have a mutually agreeable resolution,” Prestipino’s lawyer, Craig Mueller said.
Mueller told Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Carli Kierny that he and prosecutors agreed to recommend Prestipino serve between 10 and 25 years for the second-degree murder of a young woman. Their agreement indicates Prestipino will serve a 5-to-15-year sentence for kidnapping Gonzalez at the same time.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 25 at 9:00 a.m. in Judge Kierny’s courtroom.
Prestipino’s girlfriend, Lisa Mort, pleaded guilty as an accessory to the murder. The group – Prestipino, Garrett, and Mort – “engaged in various sex acts and administered, provided drugs to our victim. She was ultimately tied up and a blanket was put over her head,” prosecutors said.
According to the Nevada Department of Corrections, Mort was sentenced to 24 to 60 months and given 151 days credit for time served. She was discharged from the NDOC in Feb. 2022.
Gonzales’s autopsy report and evidence showed that she was asphyxiated and that she had been restrained prior to or after her death.
Mueller, Prestipino, and prosecutors were in court last week telling Kierny that despite intense negotiations, a plea was not likely in this case, hence Monday’s 1:00 p.m. trial date. However, the court schedule changed over the weekend, and Prestipino was added to the morning court calendar.
Prestipino had argued in court that he felt he was being offered a less attractive deal and sentence than the one Garrett was offered.
“I’m open to negotiations but the negotiations are giving the killer better than a deal and we have proof and statements that say that she said she did it,” Prestipino said.
The 8 News Now Investigators obtained a letter written by Garrett, which states, in part, “I not only accept responsibility for the charges of which I am guilty…” She claimed she agonizes over what she could, or should, have done to save Gonzales, but Garrett did not admit in the letter to killing Gonzales.
Kierny told Prestipino that the second-degree murder charge carries with it either a 5-to-15-year sentence, or 5 years to life in prison, and the first-degree kidnapping charge carries a 10-25 year sentence or 10 years to life in prison.