Since Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo was gunned down by his wife last year, she has waged a public battle with his brother over who was to blame.
William Crespo has accused his sister-in-law of killing the mayor in cold blood. Lyvette Crespo has insisted that she was defending her 19-year-old son as her husband attacked the teenager in the family's condominium.
On Thursday, a grand jury indictment was unsealed charging her with voluntary manslaughter. With an allegation that she was armed with a handgun at the crime, Lyvette faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced the indictment after Lyvette Crespo, 43, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty.
The filing is the latest twist in a case that has raised allegations of domestic violence and infidelity after the Sept. 30 killing in which Lyvette Crespo fired three gunshots into the mayor, her high school sweetheart, striking him in the chest.
One of the two prosecutors on the case, Beth Silverman, said members of the grand jury were given a choice of charges they could have brought against Lyvette Crespo, who has claimed self-defense.
"Faced with everything from murder to manslaughter to justifiable homicide, they chose," she said.
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing without a prior intent and during a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
Lyvette Crespo's lawyer, Eber Bayona, however, insisted that the killing was justifiable and in defense of Lyvette Crespo and her son. The lawyer said Lyvette Crespo had suffered decades of abuse by her husband.
"From Day 1, I have told you Mrs. Crespo was a battered woman, an abused woman, and at trial she will avail herself of self- defense ... and battered woman's syndrome," Bayona told reporters.
Bayona said he hoped to have Lyvette Crespo freed on $150,000 bail soon so that she could be with her children. She is expected to return to court May 29.
William Crespo, the mayor's brother, said prosecutors should have gone further.
"I am not happy with the charge. But something is better than nothing," he said. "She committed murder. She is going to say and do anything she can to get away with this. It is not over."
Authorities said the mayor, who also worked as a probation officer, was shot during a heated family argument. After the mayor punched his son, Daniel Crespo Jr., in the face, Lyvette Crespo grabbed her husband's handgun, a 9-millimeter pistol, and shot him three times, according to a Los Angeles County coroner's report.
In an anguished 911 call after the shooting, Daniel Crespo Jr. told a dispatcher: "He hurt me. He hurt me. He's on the floor dying. He hurt me."
The couple's adult daughter, Crystal Crespo, told investigators that her father was "verbally and physically abusive to her mother over 20 years," according to the coroner's report. That abuse, she said, had become more physical in the last two years as her parents argued over his infidelity. The daughter, however, acknowledged that the abuse did not leave her mother with serious injuries and that it had never been reported, the report said.
William Crespo disputed accounts that his brother was abusive. He and others said the mayor openly dated other women, infuriating his wife.
William Crespo provided The Times with text messages that appeared to be angry exchanges between Daniel Crespo and his wife.
"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 last year.
"It better [be the] last time U threaten to shoot me in [the] head!!!" came the reply from Daniel Crespo's phone.
Los Angeles County sheriff's officials told The Times that investigators believed the messages were a legitimate exchange between Lyvette and her husband.