3 Enter Guilty Pleas in Fire at San Juan Hotel

Associated Press

Three hotel employees pleaded guilty at a court hearing Friday to federal charges of setting the New Year's Eve fire that killed 97 people at the Dupont Plaza Hotel. Two of the employees pleaded guilty to murder counts.

The three changed their pleas from not guilty as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. The trial had been scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court. Sentencing was set for June 22.

Hector Escudero Aponte, a 35-year-old maintenance worker, pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Secret Service agent Manuel de Jesus Marrero Otero, who was on a counterfeit money case and died in the fire in the beachfront hotel.

Bartender a Defendant

The other two defendants are Armando Jimenez Rivera, 29, a bartender's assistant, and Jose Francisco Rivera Lopez, 40, a bartender.

Immediately after the federal court hearing, Jimenez was taken to Puerto Rico Superior Court, where the three face charges of first-degree murder, arson and conspiracy.

Jimenez pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, arson and conspiracy.

The trial for Rivera and Escudero in Superior Court is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

U.S. Atty. Daniel Lopez Romo, who filed the murder charge against Escudero at Friday's hearing, said prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

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