Admitted Fresno murderer avoids prison time

FRESNO, Calif.

77-year-old Charles Salazar pleaded guilty to second degree murder, but also pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Salazar's mental state is not good. An Action News reporter has seen him in court several times and Salazar almost never seemed to know where he was or what was being said to him.

Prosecutors eventually agreed that the best thing for everybody was for him to go to a mental institution instead of prison.

The same fragile man seen in a Fresno County courtroom pleaded guilty Thursday to committing one of the most gruesome murders in Fresno. But he also said he was not guilty, because he was insane.

"What he's doing is admitting those facts, that he did kill his wife, but he's saying 'When I did it, I was insane and didn't really know what I was doing,'" said ABC-30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi.

Salazar beat his wife Yvonne to death with a baseball bat last March, and then walked to a neighbor's house to ask for help.

The murder angered family members, who called for a harsh sentence for Salazar. But doctors who examined him said he suffered from dementia and late stage Alzheimer's disease.

Prosecutors acknowledged Salazar's mental illness and agreed to a rare deal. Murderers normally face sentences of life in prison, but Salazar's attorney says instead of prison, his sentence is probably life in a mental hospital.

"Considering the diagnosis that we know he has Alzheimer's, he's not going to get any better," said defense attorney Ralph Torres. "So we'd expect he would get worse."

Capozzi says the deal works out for both sides by making sure Salazar stays in some sort of custody.

"If it were to go to trial and he pled not guilty by reason of insanity and won, he may be on the streets so it worked out well for everyone," Capozzi said. "Again, society's protected. He's taken care of. He's no going to harm anyone else."

Salazar will be headed for Atascadero State Hospital next. The courts will get progress reports on him every six months, but if he's ever deemed to be sane, he'll just head to prison because of the guilty plea.

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