But the 22-year-old is now in custody, accused of shooting and killing Nick Kauls last month in Fresno County's Old Fig Garden neighborhood.
Mugshot of suspect accused of killing Nick Kauls in Old Fig Garden identified as 22 year old Joseph Espinoza of Fresno. pic.twitter.com/g66NKmCvfL— Sontaya Rose (@SontayaRose) July 6, 2018
Detectives say Espinoza was on a mission to rob random people late last month. Kauls and his friend were among the innocent victims confronted.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said, "A man got out of the SUV approached Nicholas and his friend as they were in the driveway and demanded that they hand over all of their belongings. The boys refused and ran away."
That's when Kauls was shot, an injury that would lead to his death.
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Investigators say Espinoza was involved in a domestic disturbance call with police hours earlier at the Motel 6 on Blackstone and Herndon. They took meth from him and two guns from his friend.
Fresno Police say prior to Nick Kauls homicide, Joseph Espinoza was in possession of meth at a Motel 6. Two guns also found in motel.— Sontaya Rose (@SontayaRose) July 6, 2018
Detectives say that's when Espinoza and two others began a quest to get money.
Chief Dyer says motive for Nick Kauls murder was to raise bail money for Joseph Espinoza’s friend. So detectives say Espinoza and two others were attempting to rob people prior to 187.— Sontaya Rose (@SontayaRose) July 6, 2018
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "We know that Espinoza went out that evening for the purpose of committing robberies, in order to raise bail money to get his friend, Jose Figueroa out of jail."
Sheriff Mims and Chief Dyer are briefing the media on the investigation into the murder of Nick Kauls. pic.twitter.com/AQcHpBZ6pz— Sontaya Rose (@SontayaRose) July 6, 2018
Officers say other victims were confronted and shot at in the area of Ashlan & West and First & Gettysburg, but no one was hurt.
Kauls was a well-loved student at San Joaquin Memorial and a treasured son to his mother. To the community, he was the tragic victim of a senseless crime.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said, "He is everybody and anybody's child. As a 100% innocent victim, who was literally at the wrong place at the wrong time, he could have been any of our children."
Espinoza does not have a criminal past but now faces several felony counts.
His bail is set at $4.3 million.