Murder suspect Joseph Ward advances closer to trial after preliminary hearing |

Murder suspect Joseph Ward advances closer to trial after preliminary hearing

Joseph Ward

Kenneth Pestana — the 61-year-old who authorities claim was killed by Joseph Ward, 32 — took the younger man under his wing two decades ago, referring to him as a son, a detective testified Tuesday in a preliminary hearing.

Pestana introduced Ward as “his son, of sorts” to a neighbor about two days before his June 7 death at his Highway 20 home, about 10 miles northeast of Nevada City. However, he also thought Ward had stolen lottery tickets from him just days before he was found dead, Detective Andrew Liller said.

Ward was called a “j cat,” a jail term for someone who fails to fit in, the detective added.

Under questioning by Deputy Public Defender Tamara Zuromskis, Liller said that Pestana allowed another man who lived on the property to grow marijuana. Zuromskis also questioned the detective about a murder conviction she claimed Pestana had — an accusation that led Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh to argue she wanted to disparage the victim’s character.

Pestana was convicted of second-degree murder in 1973 and served time in Soledad Prison in California, the (Gardnerville, Nev.) Record-Courier has reported.

The questioning in Nevada County Superior Court was part of a hearing that led Judge Robert Tice-Raskin to find enough probable cause existed to advance the murder case to trial.

Ward is next scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 20.

Liller was the first witness on Tuesday to testify for the prosecution.

The detective said he responded to reports of a man down at the home in the 22000 block of Highway 20, finding Pestana in a cabin.

“I saw a male subject with a large amount of blood around and he was laying on his back,” Liller said. “I immediately noticed the smell of gasoline.”

Liller had to enter the cabin through a side door, and saw the front door blocked with a mattress once inside the building. The gas can was in a trash basket that held garbage. It appeared that some gas had been poured out, the detective testified.

Speaking to others who live on the property and a neighbor, Liller was told that a man known as “Joey” — later identified by authorities as Ward — was looking for a garage door opener earlier that day. One person told the detective she thought Pestana kept money in the garage, Liller said.

The disappearance of Ward, along with Pestana’s dog and vehicle, on the morning of June 7 drew concern. Some people saw Ward leave the cabin where Pestana later was found, and the presence of a medallion in Pestana’s trailer, jewelry he always wore, worried his girlfriend, Liller said.

Authorities at the time said Ward was a person of interest in the case. They arrested Ward in Carson City the day after Pestana’s body was found. Pestana’s car was found outside the apartment of Ward’s mother.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email or call 530-477-4239.

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