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A guilty plea in parking-lot slaying

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The man accused of killing another in a dispute over a parking space has accepted a plea agreement, bringing an end to nearly three years of legal turmoil.

Marvin Rivera-Hernandez has pleaded guilty to criminal homicide, a third-degree felony, and was immediately sentenced to serve up to five years in the Utah State Prison. The plea cancels a scheduled September jury trial, which would have been Rivera-Hernandez's second in connection with the Oct. 11, 1998, slaying of Alejandro Gallegos, 29.

Rivera-Hernandez, an illegal immigrant, will be deported to Mexico once his sentence is completed.

A five-day trial last October ended with a hung jury on the original charge of first-degree felony murder. Jurors did find Rivera-Hernandez, 27, guilty of one count of tampering with evidence, a second-degree felony, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a third-degree felony.

Rivera-Hernandez and two other men originally were charged with the shooting in the parking lot of La Frontera restaurant, 1434 S. 700 West, but those charges were dropped in January 1999 when prosecutors were unable to locate key witnesses. The case against Rivera-Hernandez was refiled in October 1999.

Prosecutors painted Rivera-Hernandez as the ring leader of a well-orchestrated gang, and said Rivera-Hernandez gloated about the shooting shortly after it happened. Witnesses were fearful of Rivera-Hernandez and reluctant to testify against him at the first trial, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys maintain another man, in prison for shooting and nearly killing Rivera-Hernandez in an altercation at a West Valley apartment complex, is the real killer.

Rivera-Hernandez's latest prison sentence of five years will run concurrent to the possible 15 years he is now serving for the two charges of which he was previously convicted.