A 28-year-old man charged with two counts of murder in the slayings of his girlfriend and the baby with which she was 39 weeks pregnant was found dead at Lerdo Jail on Saturday in what is being investigated as a possible suicide.
Manuel Vela was found unresponsive in a single-person cell at 2:55 p.m., sheriff's officials said. Jail staff attempted "lifesaving measures," but Vela was pronounced dead a short time later.
An autopsy will be scheduled to determine cause and manner of death.
Sheriff's officials said Vela was not on suicide watch at the time of his death. Vela wore paper clothing in December court hearings, a common indication a defendant is on suicide watch.
"It does give the victim's family some closure; however, it did prevent the victim's family from receiving some answers that could have been forthcoming from the trial," Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford said of Vela's death.
Pafford, who had planned to personally prosecute Vela if the defendant was found competent to stand trial, said his death also robs the victim's family of the opportunity to face him in court and tell him how his actions have impacted their lives.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Peter Kang, who was representing Vela, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A competency hearing for Vela had been scheduled for Jan. 20.
Vela's girlfriend, Katrina Rivera, 30, was reported missing Dec. 8. A child of Rivera said she last saw her mother getting into Vela's car, court documents said.
Two days later, deputies chased Vela's maroon 2000 Hyundai Elantra in northeast Bakersfield. During the chase, Vela dangled a baby outside the driver's side window, according to documents.
A California Highway Patrol officer managed to lay down a spike strip in Vela's path. Vela veered toward but missed the officer; the spike strip, however, punctured two tires, and Vela pulled over on Mount Vernon Avenue near East Bakersfield High School and Kern Medical Center.
Vela got out of the vehicle and walked away holding the baby as a shield as multiple deputies ran toward him, the documents said. He ignored commands to stop before throwing the baby in a gutter and running.
Several deputies tackled him and took him into custody with the assistance of a K9. Investigators said Vela punched and kicked deputies as they took him to the ground.
CPR was performed on the baby, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital, the documents said. A doctor said he believed the baby had been alive earlier that day.
Rivera's body was found in the back seat of the car. It appeared the baby had been cut out of her, the documents said.
Vela told investigators he strangled Rivera the night of Dec. 8, then placed her body in the back of his car and drove around. At some point, Vela stopped on Edison Highway and used a razor blade to cut out the baby, the documents said he told investigators.
Vela pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor spousal abuse charge, court records show. He also has convictions for misdemeanor battery from 2009 and 2012.