Under a plea deal, the wife of slain Bell Gardens mayor gets 90 days in jail for his killing

The slaying of Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo was never a whodunit.

His wife admitted to firing three bullets through his chest. But the real question was whether  Lyvette Crespo had shot him “in cold blood” or in a desperate act of self-defense as an abused wife trying to protect herself and her adult son. 

Prosecutors on Wednesday said the answer is more complicated.

The case, marked by lurid allegations of infidelity and violence, was expected to go to trial early next year, but Crespo appeared in a downtown L.A. courtroom and struck a deal with the district attorney’s office.

In exchange for her pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, Crespo, 45, will be sentenced to 90 days in county jail and placed on probation for five years. She will also have to complete 500 hours of community service and an anger management course.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman said the shooting amounted to a crime but that there was some evidence to back up Crespo’s claims of domestic abuse by her husband. That abuse, the prosecutor said, played a factor in the decision to offer her a plea deal.

“Not every case is deserving of the max sentence,” Silverman said.

In court, Crespo whispered her plea so quietly that the judge initially couldn’t hear her.

Crespo repeated herself, still whispering —  “guilty,” she said —  before dropping her head.

As she left the hearing, she sobbed and covered her face with a scarf.

Attorneys for Crespo — whose plea agreement still needs to be approved by a judge — declined to comment.

James Devitt, an attorney representing the slain mayor’s mother and brother, William, in a civil suit against Lyvette Crespo, condemned the agreement as too lenient.

“It’s totally outrageous and wrong,” he said.

Devitt said evidence in the case showed that the couple was in a mutually abusive relationship, but he said that doesn’t justify killing.

“Go to a shelter, get a divorce, get a restraining order,” he said. “But don’t get out your 9-millimeter and put three bullets in someone’s chest.”

Prosecutors had told grand jurors that Lyvette and Daniel had a “very rocky … very difficult, dysfunctional relationship” and presented evidence of threatening texts and recordings of conversations between the two.

One recording captured an exchange with his wife in which Daniel Crespo asked: “Why would you threaten to shoot me?”

“Well, if you cheat, that's what I would do,” Lyvette Crespo responded, a prosecutor told grand jurors.

The Sept. 30, 2014, killing shocked the small Southeast Los Angeles County community where Daniel Crespo, 46, had spent more than a decade on the City Council. Crespo, who also worked as a probation officer, forged a reputation as a crusader against perceived injustices — a man who, critics said, was quick with a threat. 

But after his death, the homicide investigation revealed an even more disturbing portrait. Daniel Crespo had married his high school sweetheart but did little to hide his numerous affairs, which were often the subject of angry and threatening texts exchanged by the couple, according to grand jury testimony.

He bought one girlfriend a ring during a trip to Las Vegas for a faux wedding, court papers show, and sent his wife an audio recording of him bragging to a co-worker about his dalliances. He rented out a six-bedroom home he owned, but kept one room empty so he could rendezvous there with women on his lunch breaks and after work. His wife, documents show, called it “Daniel’s Man Cave.”

Last year, prosecutors said a grand jury was given a choice of options in deciding how to handle the case, from murder to justifiable homicide. The panel opted to indict Lyvette Crespo on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which is defined as killing without prior intent and during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.

During the grand jury proceedings, the couple’s son, Daniel Jr., testified that moments before the shooting, his father punched him in the face, knocking him down the stairs, court papers show. He said he got up, ran down the remaining stairs to the interior door of the family's garage. When he looked back, he said he saw his mother on a landing above his father on the stairs.

“That's when I saw him get shot,” Daniel Jr. testified. “I heard three gunshots and then saw him fall.”

He told grand jurors his father was abusive to his mother and his sister. On one occasion, he saw his father choke his sister against a closet. On another, he said, his father punched his mother in the face as they drove home from church, believing that she’d looked at another man.

A Bell Gardens police officer testified that Lyvette cried and shook in an interview after the shooting.

“He was hurting us,” the officer recalled her saying.

Silverman, the prosecutor, told grand jurors at the time that the Bell Gardens mayor mistreated his wife — treating her as if she were his secretary.

Nevertheless, Silverman said Lyvette repeatedly goaded her husband, showing that she did not fear for her own safety. “She is extremely angry with her husband, and possibly with very good reason,” Silverman said.

Silverman and another prosecutor presented the grand jury with texts between the couple, including some in which Lyvette appeared to threaten her husband, according to grand jury transcripts.

“I'll find out who … u got flowers for. Has to be a bell gardens whore,” read one of the messages sent to Daniel Crespo's phone number months before the shooting.

A reply came from his phone: “It better [be the] last time U threaten to shoot me in [the] head!!!” 

“People don't like to be played with or be made a fool,” she responded, according to the court papers. “Don't play with me.”

Silverman read texts she said were exchanged between the pair on the day of the shooting, the grand jury transcripts show. In the texts, Lyvette warned her husband about boasting of his affairs to his co-workers, the prosecutor said.

“Rot in hell,” he responded in a profanity-laden text. “You will regret it.”

After another brief exchange, he wrote to her one afternoon: “When I get home, let's see how you will respond.... With the rage I have, woman, you shouldn't be pushing my buttons.”

The shooting occurred about half an hour later.

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

For more news from the Los Angeles County courts, follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber

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UPDATES:

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from the hearing and background about the case.

12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from an attorney representing Daniel Crespo’s mother and brother.

12:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the court hearing.

This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.

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