Jacob Medina Cervantes, the 26-year-old Ceres businessman whose auto shop yielded a frozen corpse last week, told a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge on Thursday that he is innocent of murder.
A criminal complaint charges that Cervantes killed the man in the freezer between Dec. 1 and April 10. He is being held at the Stanislaus County Jail on $2 million bail. Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne asked for the higher bail amount out of concern about Cervantes fleeing the country as a free man.
Cervantes turned himself in the day after the discovery of the body after learning that detectives were trying to make contact with him.
Cervantes owned and operated The Shop Customs, located at 1828 Whitmore Avenue, Suite A, just west of Highway 99. The shop dealt in custom paint jobs, frame up restoration and mechanical repairs.
The April 14 discovery of the body began as a civil dispute when Ceres Police were called by the landlord of the industrial park at the foot of the Whitmore Avenue Overpass. The landlord had leased a blue warehouse building tucked behind the northernmost row of buildings to the owner of the auto shop and feared the operation was abandoned. The owner of one of the four vehicles found stored inside the building became alarmed because he could not contact Cervantes about the status of his vehicle. One police official described Cervantes as "pretty flaky" with a history of abandoning work sites and leaving vehicles and car parts behind.
Police were present when the shop was entered and it was learned the vehicle in question hadn't been touched. At first police didn't open the chest-type freezer because of items stacked on it. Officers left the scene but were called back at approximately 3 p.m. after the landlord, who was in the process of changing the locks and removing the vehicles and tools, opened the freezer and found the frozen human remains.
Ceres Police Department officials were unable to comment further on the case because it's been turned over to the Stanislaus County District Attorney's office.
Cervantes will be back in court at 8:30 a.m. on May 1 for a pretrial hearing.