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Murder suspect Kimberly Vega is shown in a 2020 Facebook profile photo with her former boyfriend Pablo Dominguez, who she is accused of killing. Dominguez was allegedly shot by another man on June 7, and Dominguez’s brother has said Vega hired the other man to commit the crime. | FACEBOOK PHOTO

Court Dates Set for El Centro Murder Defendants

Records, Former Neighbor Paint Volatile Picture of Relationship Between Victim and His Ex

BRAWLEY — After nearly a week of repeated attempts, defendant Kimberly Andrea Vega was appointed a local defense attorney to represent her in her upcoming trial for the murder of her 27-year-old ex-boyfriend and father of her youngest child.

The attempt to appoint a defense attorney for Vega, 32, of El Centro, began Aug. 4, when she was initially arraigned on one count of murder in connection to the June 7 fatal shooting of 27-year-old El Centro resident Pablo Dominguez.

Since then, a series of defense attorneys had advised the court that they could not accept an appointment to represent Vega, who is in custody on $1 million bail, because of their respective conflicts of interest.

Kimberly Andrea Vega’s booking photo from Monday, Aug. 2. | IMPERIAL COUNTY JAIL PHOTO

Ultimately, El Centro-based attorney Jason Amavisca was appointed by county Superior Court Judge Monica Lepe-Negrete on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Brawley courthouse’s west department.

With the confirmation of Vega’s counsel, her next scheduled court appearance was to be on Thursday, Aug. 12, for a readiness conference. A preliminary examination is also tentatively scheduled for Aug. 18, where the court will determine whether enough probable cause exists to hold Vega over for trial.

Aside from Vega, 21-year-old El Centro resident Athan Emmanuel Estrada is also facing one count of murder in connection to Dominguez’s death. Estrada allegedly shot Dominguez in the early morning of June 7 at the Crown Motel, located at 330 N. Imperial Ave, in El Centro, the El Centro Police Department previously reported.

The El Centro Police Department has alleged that while Estrada was in custody following his July 21 arrest for unrelated domestic violence offenses, he confessed to shooting Dominguez.

Estrada is scheduled for a pre-trial/preliminary hearing setting on Aug. 19, where the court will set a date for his preliminary examination. He is currently being held in custody without bail.

He is also scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 19 on a felony charge of escaping from jail with the use of force, according to a complaint the District Attorney’s Office filed Aug. 6 with the local Superior Court.

Estrada was accidently released from the county jail on July 23 by the county Sheriff’s Office after he reportedly assumed another inmate’s identity. Estrada was re-apprehended in Mexicali on July 30 by Mexicali municipal police with the assistance of local law enforcement agencies, the county Sheriff’s Office reported.

Dominguez’s older brother, 44-year-old El Centro resident George Muñoz, has alleged that Estrada had carried out the shooting at the urging of Vega, according to information Muñoz said he received from an El Centro police investigator.

According to Muñoz, Dominguez and Vega had been in a relationship and had a daughter together but separated when Dominguez decided to change his lifestyle.

Court records also reveal that Dominguez had two separate criminal cases pending against him at the time of his death. He had pleaded not guilty in both cases, which were dismissed by the DA’s Office in mid-July.

On March 5, Dominguez was arrested by El Centro police for allegedly battering Vega near Fifth Street and Heil Avenue, according to El Centro police call logs.

El Centro murder suspect and Imperial County jail escapee Athan Emmanuel Estrada is shown after being apprehended in Mexicali on July 30. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IMPERIAL COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The DA’s Office subsequently filed charges against him on March 24, including one felony count of false imprisonment, one misdemeanor count of battery on a cohabitant, and one misdemeanor count of possession of methamphetamine, court records stated.

On May 25, Dominguez was also charged by the DA’s Office with a felony count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Additionally, on April 1, a reporting party called El Centro police to allege that both Vega and Dominguez were involved in the sale of guns, narcotics, marijuana, and other illegal items, according to El Centro police call logs.

Recently, the El Centro police detective assigned to investigate Dominguez’s death told a local TV news station that both Vega and Estrada were involved in the interstate trafficking of drugs, money, and guns. This newspaper’s request for further comment about the trafficking allegations was not immediately returned by the El Centro Police Department.

A neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous and who lived nearby Dominguez and Vega when they resided together in the 600 block of Commercial Avenue, said she had befriended Vega when the latter moved into the neighborhood in mid-2019.

At the time, Vega was pregnant with Dominguez’s daughter, while he was reportedly incarcerated for a narcotics-related offense, the neighbor said.

According to court records, Dominguez was sentenced in November 2018 to two years of incarceration in county jail after pleading no contest to a felony count of transportation for sale of a controlled substance.

When Dominguez was released from jail in late 2019 or early 2020, verbal arguments were not uncommon at the household, the neighbor said. He reportedly moved out in late 2020 or early 2021, about six months after his daughter was born.

“When he left, he left for good,” the neighbor said. “He didn’t come back.”

Vega appeared to have kept company with questionable people after Dominguez’s departure, as evidenced by the constant foot traffic in and out of the residence.

“Emotionally she wasn’t OK,” the neighbor said.

Pablo Dominguez, 27, of El Centro, was allegedly shot by Athan Emmanuel Estrada on June 7 at the Crown Motel in El Centro and died in a Palm Springs hospital about five days later. Dominguez’s brother says he was told by police it was a murder-for-hire ploy by Pablo’s ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Vega, who was arrested on suspicion of murder Aug. 2. | COURTESY IMAGES