MONTROSE — The mother of a Burlington man sentenced to 50 years in prison last month on a second-degree murder conviction was ordered to serve 10 years in prison this week for attempting to destroy evidence in the murder investigation.
Carmen Ledesma, 58, was sentenced in Henry County District Court to 10 years in prison by District Judge John Wright after she entered a guilty plea to second-degree arson. A charge of accessory after the fact against Ledesma was dismissed by prosecutors after she agreed to plead guilty to arson, a class B felony.
She was convicted of attempting to destroy evidence by setting fire to the vehicle used by her son, Joseph Mayorga Jr., in the Feb. 11, 2016, killing of James Merlin Nelson, 47, formerly of Fairfield.
Mayorga, 35, 1632 S. 14th St., Burlington, was sentenced Jan. 23 to 50 years in prison by District Judge Mark Kruse after he admitted to killing Nelson.
"Mr. Nelson and Mr. Mayorga were known to have prior dealings over drugs and money," according to Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said. "The last known communication sent by Mr. Nelson prior to his body being discovered was to Joseph Mayorga to set up a meeting for the early morning hours of Feb. 10."
Nelson was found shot to death about 11 a.m. Feb. 11 by a citizen in Indian Path Park along U.S. 61 near the Skunk River south of Burlington. Authorities said Nelson was shot at a Burlington home and his body dumped in the park by Mayorga.
Authorities said Nelson died from a single gunshot wound to the eye.
During a subsequent investigation by Lee County Sheriff's detectives, along with special agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, officers learned the two men got into an argument after Mayorga became angry with Nelson over comments the victim made about Majorga's wife, Weber said.
During his guilty plea before Kruse, Mayorga detailed the events that led to Nelson's murder.
"Mayorga said he had invited Nelson to his residence in Burlington," according to Weber. "He stated that he and Nelson were sitting in his 2006 Chevrolet Impala inside his garage. During the conversation, Mayorga said Nelson made a comment about his wife that (Mayorga) found offensive.
"Mayorga said he pulled out a .38 caliber police special revolver and fired one round at Nelson, striking him in the left eye. Mayorga said he then drove to Indian Path Park, where he disposed of Nelson's body."
Detectives began looking at Mayorga as a possible suspect in Nelson's murder after they reviewed Nelson's cellphone records and determined the last "known communication sent by Nelson prior to his body being discovered, was to Mayorga to set up a meeting for the early morning hours of Feb. 10," Weber said.
During the initial stages of the investigation, detectives also began searching for a 2006 Impala that was registered to Mayorga.
On March 2, investigators located the Impala at Breuer's Towing in Mount Pleasant. Investigators learned the Impala caught fire Feb. 12, a day after Nelson's body was discovered, in Henry County and eventually was towed to Breuer's.
Investigators also learned that when Henry County deputies initially responded to the vehicle fire Feb. 12, Ledesma was at the scene. Ledesma was not arrested at that time because Henry County authorities were unaware the vehicle may have been used in a Lee County homicide about three weeks earlier.
After investigators discovered the burnt vehicle, detectives impounded it and had it taken the DCI lab in Ankeny for processing.
"Results from the lab showed the cause of the (car) fire was arson," Weber said. "Also in the vehicle, lab technicians located a large amount of blood that matched Nelson."
Mayorga subsequently was arrested and charged with Nelson's murder. Arson charges also were filed against his mother, who was found living in California. She waived extradition and was returned to Henry County to face the charges.
Authorities said Mayorga must serve 70 percent of his 50-year sentence before becoming eligible for parole in Iowa. It will be up to the Iowa State Parole Board to determine how much of the 10-year sentence Ledesma must serve before she is released on parole.
Kruse also ordered Mayorga's 50-year sentence to run concurrent to another sentence handed down against Mayorga last October in U.S. Federal District Court in Davenport, where he was ordered to serve 102 months in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Authorities said the federal case is tied to Nelson's murder.
Mayorga originally was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Nelson, but the charge was reduced to second-degree murder following plea negotiations between Bruce McDonald, an assistant Lee County attorney, and Allen Cook III, a public defender in Jefferson County, who was appointed to represent him.