One of three people arrested in connection with the 2018 murder of a Santa Maria man has pleaded guilty.
Benjamin Mersai was arrested last year on suspicion of murder, conspiracy and accessory to murder, but pleaded guilty Jan. 26 to voluntary manslaughter “due to his level of participation and other mitigating circumstances in the case,” according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
The 34-year-old was taken into custody in September of last year at Blacklake Golf Resort in Nipomo, the same golf course where the remains of Joseph Martin Govey were pulled from a lake on the property a week earlier.
Two other suspects are also facing charges in the case.
Kimberly Machleit is charged with murder and Donald Anderson is charged with being an accessory to murder for the killing that’s alleged to have occurred Dec. 2, 2018.
Govey was reported missing to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on August 23, 2019 after the sheriff’s office says his family had not heard from him since late 2018.
Sheriff's officials say detectives believe the victim was killed and dismembered in Santa Maria in December 2018 before the remains were dropped in the lake.
Investigators say the victim and at least two of the suspects knew each other and the killing was not a random act.
The DA’s Office says Mersai is likely to receive a sentence of three to six years behind bars, but sentencing is on hold until cases against the other suspects have been resolved.
He remains in custody at Santa Barbara County Jail, according to jail logs.