More than eight years after a methamphetamine operation exploded and killed three children in a Gwinnett County home, a new suspect was arrested after prosecutors realized they had the wrong man.
Mariano Sandoval was indicted by a Gwinnett grand jury earlier in March after the district attorney’s office discovered that Ivan Gonzales, who was previously arrested in Mexico and accused of causing the deadly fire, was not inside the Lilburn-area home when it caught fire, Deputy Chief Assistant DA Lisa Jones told AJC.com.
The children — Isaac Guevara, 4, Ivan Guevara, 3, and Stacy Brito, 18 months — were found to be living amid toxic and highly volatile chemicals when something sparked the deadly fire on Feb. 17, 2011, police previously said.
Four pounds of meth burned in the fire, police said. Investigators also found more than 4,500 grams of liquid meth, which would produce about a pound of “finished meth” along with about $192,000 cash within the walls of the home in the 1100 block of Spring Mill Drive.
The children’s mother, Neibi Brito, and Joseph Perez were arrested at the scene, and Gonzales was believed to have fled to Mexico. He was captured there in 2015 after the U.S. Marshals Service and the Gwinnett sheriff’s office tracked him to the area.
However, Jones said Tuesday that Sandoval is who caused the meth fire, not Gonzales.
“He is now indicted and alleged to have committed the offenses that caused the meth fire that killed the three kids,” she said in an email. “We determined Sandoval is who was present with Brito and Perez. Gonzales pled to other drug charges he had pending.”
In 2016, Gonzales was convicted of trafficking marijuana, possessing meth and two counts of writing false statements, court records show. All other charges against him were dropped.
He spent about two years and five months at the Coffee Correctional Facility before being released, according to Georgia Department of Corrections records. He was then deported to Mexico, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox.
Brito and Perez both pleaded guilty in 2013 and were sentenced to 30 years for voluntary manslaughter, drug trafficking, manufacturing meth and having children present during the manufacturing of meth, AJC.com previously reported.
Sandoval was indicted by a Gwinnett grand jury of five counts of felony murder, two counts of trafficking methamphetamine, one count of manufacturing methamphetamine and one count of child endangerment earlier in March, court records show.
Investigators told Channel 2 Action News they found a fingerprint that allegedly belonged to Sandoval, who was arrested in California. It’s unclear where in California he was arrested, but he’s in custody awaiting extradition to Georgia.
— Staff writer Joshua Sharpe contributed to this article.
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