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Pleas In Murder For Hire Plot
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Maria Leon, 43, of Riverbank, entered a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter and soliciting murder stemming from the April 29, 2004 killing of her husband, Martin Leon. Jose Gaona, 30, also of Riverbank, entered a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter, soliciting murder, possession of cocaine for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale and evading a peace officer in connection with the case.

Leon was shot in front of his Riverbank home. His wife, Maria Leon, was charged with hiring people to arrange his murder. In evidence shown at the preliminary hearing, Gaona was Ms. Leon's boyfriend and assisted in the planning of the murder. Ms. Leon unsuccessfully attempted to call off the murder; she later admitted her involvement to investigators and assisted them in identifying the perpetrators. The two pleaded no contest just before a jury trial was to begin.

Leon is facing 18 years in state prison and Gaona is facing 16 years and four months in state prison. A hearing on further proceedings is scheduled for Ms. Leon on Nov. 5 and sentencing is scheduled for Gaona on Nov. 20. Both hearings will be held in Department 1 before the Honorable Timothy Salter. Eved Romero previously pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life for his role in the murder.

Ms. Leon argued in her defense she was a battered woman and her husband abused her and her six children. Her attorney has said Martin Leon had a son with his wife's sister and an alleged relationship with his wife's daughter from another relationship.

The slain man was a supervisor for field workers employed by an Escalon company and bragged about cheating on his wife with women he supervised in the fields, according to testimony.

He had resided in Escalon for many years and moved with his family to the Crossroads area of Riverbank only a few months before he was shot down in his driveway while leaving for work early in the morning.

Gaona, Ms. Leon and her nephew Luis Penaloza, 27, of Oakdale reportedly arranged for a hit man who has never been identified or caught. Penaloza is still in custody with his trial set to begin this month.

Romero, 21, admitted he drove the gunman to the Leon home and pointed out the victim from across the street.