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Pablo Dominguez, 27, of El Centro, was shot June 7 at the Crown Motel in El Centro and died in a Palm Springs hospital about five days later. The man who police say confessed to his killing, Athan Emmanuel Estrada, 21, of El Centro, escaped from the Imperial County jail on Friday, July 23, and is still at large. | COURTESY IMAGES

Family Hopeful for Murder Suspect’s Re-apprehension

Relatives of Pablo Dominguez, Shot June 7, Allege His Killing By Escapee Was Murder for Hire

EL CENTRO — The family of a 27-year-old El Centro man who was shot at the Crown Motel on June 7 finds itself mourning his death and angry that the murder suspect was accidently released from jail by authorities on July 23 and remained at large.

Still, the family of Pablo Dominguez is hopeful that the suspect will once again be apprehended and that alleged accomplices will soon be brought to justice in what the family believes is a murder for hire.

Escaped Imperial County jail inmate Athan Emmanuel Estrada is alleged to have shot and killed Pablo Dominguez. | IMPERIAL COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE PHOTO

Dominguez’s older brother, George Muñoz, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, July 27 that two days prior to his brother’s shooting, he was allegedly assaulted by three assailants who were reportedly acting at the behest of Dominguez’s ex-girlfriend.

Muñoz is further alleging that the ex-girlfriend had urged 21-year-old Athan Emmanuel Estrada of El Centro, who was arrested July 21 by El Centro police and subsequently booked into jail for Dominguez’s murder, to carry out that shooting, along with the assistance of others.

“It was murder for hire, pretty much,” Muñoz said. “The story is, the girl eventually got those guys to do this to him.”

In the past, Dominguez reportedly had struggled with substance abuse but was able to turn his life around about two years ago with the help of his church. Although his ex-girlfriend had followed suit, she eventually lost interest in attending church, which prompted Dominguez to part ways with her, Muñoz said.

“Pablo pretty much wanted to change his life, so he ended up leaving her,” he said.

The separation apparently did not sit well with the ex-girlfriend, who reportedly succeeded repeatedly in tracking down Dominguez at the various motels he had been residing in following his departure, Muñoz said.

Most of Dominguez’s family were not aware he was residing at the Crown Motel, located at 330 N. Imperial Ave., when they heard that a man was shot there on June 7 and subsequently flown to a Palm Springs hospital for emergency medical care.

It wasn’t until hospital personnel contacted family members shortly after the incident to try to confirm Dominguez’s identity that they became aware of what had happened to him, Muñoz said. Because Dominguez was reportedly shot in the face, hospital personnel had to rely on his tattoos to have the family identify him.

He had remained in a coma for about five days, after which time the family decided to take him off life support, Muñoz said. Dominguez was the youngest of eight siblings, which included four sisters and three brothers. He leaves behind two daughters, ages 1 and 3, Muñoz said.  

The circumstances surrounding Dominguez’s shooting at the motel likely prompted many in the community to speculate he was up to no good, but Muñoz insisted that was not the case.

In his repeated conversations with the El Centro police investigator handling the case, Muñoz said he was made aware that the police were confident that evidence left behind at the scene tied Estrada to the shooting.

Estrada had been arrested on an unrelated matter on July 21. While in custody he reportedly confessed to Dominguez’s murder, the El Centro Police Department previously reported. Muñoz said it was the evidence that was left behind and which contained Estrada’s DNA that likely compelled him to confess. The suspect was also alleged to have implicated others in the premeditated shooting, Muñoz said.

Estrada was subsequently released from the custody of the county Sheriff’s Office about 8 p.m. July 23 after he assumed the identity of another inmate, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release sent out Saturday morning, July 24.

As much praise as Muñoz had for the El Centro police for their ongoing investigation, he was equally critical of the Sheriff’s Office handling of Estrada’s release, as well as the brusque treatment family members had received from ICSO personnel during their follow-up conversations.

Yet, he and his extended family remain hopeful that Estrada’s alleged accomplices are soon brought to justice, as well.

A collage of family photos shows Pablo Dominguez, who was allegedly shot and killed by Athan Emmanuel Estrada in El Centro in early June. The shooting occurred at the Crown Motel on June 7 and Dominguez died a few days later in Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. His alleged killer escaped from the Imperial County jail and is still on the loose. | PHOTO COLLAGE COURTESY OF THE DOMINGUEZ FAMILY