Commerce City man arrested in I-70 drug bust will represent himself in court
Manuel Lujan-Estrada, one of two people arrested in domestic-dispute-turned-drug-bust, considers plea offer
A Commerce City man arrested on drug charges in May after a domestic dispute on Interstate 70 has elected to represent himself in court as he faces eight felonies and a likely minimum of 10 years in prison.
Manuel Lujan-Estrada appeared in Eagle County court Tuesday after reports of a domestic dispute on May 3 led police to uncover 32.76 pounds of suspected methamphetamine and 1.49 pounds of suspected fentanyl pills in a car driven by his then-girlfriend Yesenia Zarraga.
According to an affidavit, Zarraga told deputies that she was driving on I-70 but pulled over and hid in some bushes after an argument started and Lujan-Estrada fired at least two shots from a handgun out the passenger window of the black Volkswagen Beetle she was driving.
Zarraga told deputies they had traveled to California to pick up drugs. Deputies later located the drugs along with a revolver with three empty bullet casings in its cylinder.
The revolver was found to be owned by Lujan-Estrada, a convicted felon with seven outstanding warrants for his arrest, according to the affidavit.
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Zarraga told police that Lujan-Estrada had forced her to smoke meth five times on the trip, had threatened more than once to kill her or burn down her house, and hit her in the face at least once. She now has a protection order against him.
She denied having any involvement with the drugs in the car, which Lujan-Estrada refuted, saying she was paid $5,000 to transport the drugs from California.
Zarraga currently faces one felony drug charge, possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, and has a preliminary hearing set for the end of this month, according to court records.
In his Tuesday court appearance, Lujan-Estrada dismissed the public defender who was representing him, telling an Eagle County judge that he would like to represent himself moving forward.
He also requested that a preliminary hearing be set for his case as soon as possible, a move which would eliminate a plea offer extended to him by Johnny Lombardi, deputy district attorney with the 5th Judicial District.
The plea deal offered to Lujan-Estrada is an “open sentence” of 10 to 15 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections, meaning he would plead guilty to lower charges and decrease his odds of receiving a heftier sentence.
This is a significant offer as Lujan-Estrada faces five class 1 drug felonies — the most severe level in the state of Colorado — each of which could carry a sentence as low as probation or as high as 32 years in prison, according to state statute.
He has also been charged with two class 4 drug felonies for possession of methamphetamine and fentanyl as well as illegal possession of a weapon by a felon, a class 6 felony.
Ultimately, a two-hour preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 26 at 11 a.m., but Lujan-Estrada requested to speak with Lombardi further about the offer. If he chooses to take it, the preliminary hearing will be canceled, and he will enter a guilty plea.
Tom Lotshaw contributed to this reporting.
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