Slain real estate agent’s brother says pleading went too far

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Friends and family members associated with David Stokoe protested Thursday outside the Salt Lake City Attorney’s Office. Manuel Velasquez admitted to shooting and killing Stokoe, his landlord, when Stokoe visited his rental property in 2019. The plea for admission came a day before prosecutors lowered the charge from murder to manslaughter. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A small group of about 15 people gathered outside the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office Thursday afternoon to protest a plea deal they believe killed the man who admitted killing their relative and friend to have, “too easy” lets go.

Dean Belov, brother of David Stokoe – a real estate agent from southern Jordan who was shot dead in January 2019 – said he believes the gunman and others who were there got away with murder. He expressed frustration and disappointment that several charges, including one of desecration of his brother’s body, were simply dropped.

“Trust me, this plea deal is a bad deal for everyone,” Belov said.

He said the request was made quickly and although a previous offer was discussed with him, the offer that was ultimately accepted was not.

Manuel Velasquez, 35, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Sept. 21 and admitted shooting and killing Stokoe, who was visiting one of his own rental properties where Velasquez had stayed with others.

The plea deal reached this week dismissed several charges: two counts of firing a gun and causing serious injury, a first-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; possession of a firearm by a disabled person, a second-degree felony; and abuse or desecration of a body, a felony of the third degree.

It also changed a charge of murder to manslaughter, invoking a law that allows it if the accused “acted on the reasonable belief that the circumstances provided a legal justification or excuse.” This likely means that Velasquez had some support for an argument that he reasonably assumed his actions were self-defense.

Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill declined to comment publicly on the protest or plea deal Thursday.

Stokoe’s wife, Nicole Stokoe, said she was okay with the plea deal. She said in a statement she did not support the protest by family members.

“We understood the limitations of the evidence in the case. It’s time for me and my children to move forward, honor the outstanding man that Dave was, and act in a kind, educated and positive way as he would,” she said.

Stokoe said prosecutors worked diligently on the case to find a solution they agreed with and understood, and she asked for privacy while she and her children continue to heal and grieve for their husband and father.

Belov said there was now only one charge, manslaughter, under discussion at Velasquez’s scheduled sentencing on Nov. 22. It’s a word he doesn’t think says much about his late brother’s story.

The expected sentence for the manslaughter charge would be between one and 15 years in prison. Belov said as part of the plea deal, it might be possible for a judge to only sentence Velasquez at a time when he’s already served.

“It doesn’t suit us at all,” he said.

Belov said he didn’t want his brother’s story to be lost in the system, buried under a single charge and verdict, which could result in Velasquez’s earlier release. So he invited friends, neighbors and staff from Stokoe to join him on Thursday.

While he knows it’s probably too late to make changes in this case, he hopes to raise awareness of the issue for other cases where pleadings take place when other victims’ families disagree.

“We feel like things are going badly and it has gone badly,” Belov said. “We just can’t let it go, we can’t say anything.”

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. It covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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